Both sides are set to deliver their closing arguments in the murder trial of Cardell Hayes on Sunday, a day after the tow truck driver testified in his own defense that he shot former Saints player Will Smith in fear for his life.
The eight women and four men on the jury will hear from prosecutors first, then Hayes’s defense team and finally a second closing statement from the prosecution. Next the jurors will hear instructions from Judge Camille Buras and retire to deliberate on the fate of Hayes, 29, who faces a mandatory life sentence if he is convicted of second-degree murder.
Closing arguments are set to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday. In addition to the second-degree murder count, Hayes has also been charged with attempted second-degree murder for shooting Racquel Smith and aggravated criminal damage to property. The jury could find Hayes guilty of a lesser charge like manslaughter instead of murder.
The defense’s argument will rely heavily on Hayes’s own words during two hours and four minutes of testimony on Saturday. Hayes testified that an ordinary night on the town spiraled into a life-altering confrontation when Smith attacked him after a collision on a Lower Garden District street on April 9.
Hayes said Smith provoked him first by punching him in the face repeatedly, then by going to his SUV for a gun and threatening to use it. He denied shooting Smith’s wife Racquel at all.
“I definitely didn’t want to kill him, not at all,” Hayes said in court. “I just couldn't understand the whole situation, why they wanted to fight over an accident. I didn't know why it had to go the way it went.”
Will Smith didn’t only threaten to retrieve a gun from his vehicle before Cardell Hayes star…
Attorneys John Fuller and Jay Daniels make up Hayes's defense team. One big unknown is whether Fuller, who insinuated before the trial that former New Orleans Police Department Capt. Billy Ceravolo tampered with evidence at the scene, will repeat that or other claims of police malfeasance before the jury.
But prosecutors have ample forensic and witness testimony to point to in their closing statement. They seem poised to point out again and again that Smith was shot eight times, seven in the back, and that his wife, who had been attempting to defuse the situation, was also hit in both legs. Prosecutors will likely hammer Hayes on his statement that he did not shoot Racquel Smith.
A former New Orleans Police Department captain took the witness stand in the Cardell Hayes murder trial Friday to refute an earlier suggestion by defense attorney John Fuller that he plucked a gun from the vehicle ...
“Cardell you were right there. Who shot Racquel Smith?” Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli asked in court on Saturday. “Every piece of ballistics evidence on the scene, all the bullets, all the casings, is from one gun.”
Napoli and Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue have led the prosecution.