Cardell Hayes

Signing on to handle the appeal of a convicted felon is usually a simple process in Louisiana. But nothing has ever been simple in the case of Cardell Hayes, the man who in April was sentenced to 25 years behind bars for killing former Saints player Will Smith and wounding his wife, Racquel Smith.

Hayes wore a blue prison shirt to court Friday as his chosen lawyer — Paul Barker — sought permission from the court to represent him during the appeals process.

Barker’s motion was opposed by a prosecutor who claimed Barker had a conflict because he previously worked for a firm that represented two friends of the Smiths.

Judge Camille Buras ultimately granted Barker’s request, allowing the attorney to begin what could be a multi-year quest to overturn Hayes’ conviction.

The hearing was the second time that Barker’s involvement in the case has led to conflict. Barker originally agreed to work on a pre-sentencing motion for a new trial in January, shortly after Hayes’ conviction.

Two months later, Barker asked the judge to let him withdraw from the case. The issue was that Barker was doing contract work for Regan Law PLC, a firm that also represented Richard Hernandez and Rebecca Dooley.

Hernandez and Dooley, who are married, were friends of the Smiths and were present on the night that Hayes killed Smith. Both of them testified during the trial. Hernandez was accused during the trial of inciting the fight that led to Smith’s death, although he disputed that.

After Hayes was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April, Barker sought leave from the court to rejoin the case. He said he has now stopped working for the Regan law firm.

In court on Friday, Barker also said that he never worked on the case for the Hernandezes and had no confidential information that could be used against them.

Barker’s request to serve on the case was opposed by Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli, who prosecuted Hayes during the trial.

Napoli said the Hernandezes “feel that they are being violated" by the fact that Barker is trying to work for Hayes. He also alleged that Barker misled him in January with a claim that he did not work for the Regan firm.

“I did not lie when I said I was not employed there. I never was. … I was contracted, and not employed,” Barker said.

Buras granted Barker’s request to represent Hayes.

“My sole concern is that this record stays clear and stays correct, and I can only take the word of the officers of the court that attest to me that Mr. Barker did not deal with the Hernandezes’ case,” Buras said.

Buras set a July 28 status hearing for the appeal. A formal appeal will not by filed until at least a month after that date, Barker said.

In the meantime, Hayes is imprisoned at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility in St. Gabriel. After the hearing ended Friday, he huddled with his mother and other family members.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432