NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The man accused of gunning down former Saints defensive end Will Smith is a soft-spoken, respectful team leader who always calls older women "ma'am," his pastor and his high school coach said.
As Smith's family, friends and fans come to grips with the local favorite's death, those in Cardell Hayes' sphere were having trouble reconciling the man they've known with the accusations against him.
Hayes, 28, is in jail with a bond set at $1 million, accused of firing eight bullets along the left side of Smith's back. One bullet entered Smith's left upper back and out his right shoulder; the other seven lodged in Smith's body, according to a coroner's report. Smith's wife, Racquel, was shot in both legs.
As she crawled away, Hayes stood over Smith's body and yelled, Smith family attorney Peter Thomson said Wednesday.
Thomson said Hayes' Hummer had stopped abruptly Saturday night and Smith drove on past because passengers in his car didn't believe the two vehicles had touched. The Hummer then rammed Smith's Mercedes SUV hard enough to shatter the back windshield, he said. That led to a confrontation in the street.
But Hayes' attorney, John Fuller, disputed that description, saying his client was not the aggressor and that a witness saw a gun in Smith's possession during the confrontation.
A pastor who has gone to the same church as Hayes since grade school said he's always known the former semi-pro football player as a fun, humble person.
"Sometimes his size could be deceiving," said Sha'Teek Nobles of My Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church. "He's a nice guy. He's not hot-tempered. He's mild-mannered. That's who he is. That's who he's been since we were growing up."
Lee Green, who coached Hayes in high school, remembered him as cheerful and quiet. "I would say more of a mama's boy," Green said. He said Hayes' mother regularly brought him to school, to summer practices and to tutoring sessions.
Hayes got along well with everyone on the team and was a leader during his junior and senior years, said Green, who now runs a school with about 600 younger students. He said Hayes was among the state's top 50 defensive players his senior year and a number of schools recruited him.
In the fall of 2005, Hayes enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University in nearby Hammond but never played football there, university spokesman Rene Abadie said Wednesday.
The day after Christmas 2005, police shot and killed Hayes' father, Anthony Hayes, after he allegedly threatened them with a 3-inch knife. Several bystanders had video of police surrounding the elder Hayes as he walked down the median of St. Charles Avenue. Although several witnesses told police "that Mr. Hayes had a history of mental illness," six officers pepper-sprayed him and then shot him at least nine times, according to a federal lawsuit filed by Hayes in June 2006.
The lawsuit asked for $4 million, half of it in punitive damages. The city settled out of court in September 2011, about the same time Hayes stopped taking classes at Southeastern Louisiana.
That wasn't Hayes' only court experience.
In late 2010, he was charged with possessing codeine and drug paraphernalia, and with illegally carrying a weapon while possessing an illegal drug.
A previous attorney for Hayes withdrew a plea bargain in 2012 after a judge sentenced Hayes to five years in prison. With Fuller representing him, Hayes eventually got a suspended six-month sentence after pleading guilty in 2014 to illegally carrying a weapon and possessing drug paraphernalia.
Both Nobles and Green take issue with Arizona Cardinals' safety Tyrann Mathieu's tweeted description of Hayes as "a hating ... coward."
"He's definitely not the monster that he's been painted," Nobles said.
Fuller has said Hayes is raising his 5-year-old son, and Nobles said he's excited about fatherhood.
"It would be difficult for me to see him making a move like this that would tarnish that," Nobles said.
Green said he doesn't like guns and doesn't think Hayes should have had one. But he said he had a hard time believing Hayes could have killed anyone.
"The Cardell that I knew — the young man I knew — was a quiet, supportive, jovial young man. But when you get angry, certain things happen, and I don't justify any act of violence toward anyone," he said.