Correction: Saints-Will Smith Shot story

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2016 2:51 PM
Correction: Saints-Will Smith Shot story

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In a story Dec. 6 about the trial of Cardell Hayes, who is charged in the shooting death of former NFL star Will Smith, The Associated Press reported erroneously that lawyers said a toxicology report indicated Hayes was legally drunk on the night of the shooting. The report said Smith was drunk, not Hayes.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Will Smith's widow: 'He didn't have to do that to my baby'

The widow of NFL star Will Smith took the witness stand Tuesday to confront the man who killed her husband and shot her in the legs

By KEVIN McGILL

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The widow of NFL star Will Smith took the stand Tuesday at the murder trial of her husband's killer, disputing the defense claim that Smith was the aggressor and telling the jury, "He didn't have to do that to my baby."

Racquel Smith said she thought she had defused the loud, profane argument that broke out after Cardell Hayes' Hummer rear-ended Smith's Mercedes SUV on a busy street in New Orleans last April.

The men got out of their cars to challenge each other, but she described locking eyes with her husband, reminding him of their three children and feeling his anger diminish.

"I thought it was done and I think he thought it was over, too," she testified as she was questioned by New Orleans Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue.

Then, she heard two gunshots.

"I hear a pop, pop," she said. "I didn't think it was me."

A burning sensation spread throughout her body, and as she stumbled around to the other side of their car, she said she heard more gunshots — the ones she learned later had killed her husband.

"I didn't do anything for you to shoot me," she told Hayes.

Her recollections presented a vastly different picture from the one being outlined by the defense. She insisted that she heard Hayes yelling profanely after the shooting, apparently at her husband's lifeless body, making a reference to a white friend of the Smiths who also got out to challenge Hayes.

"You want to show up for the effing white boy," she recalled Hayes shouting.

Anticipating her testimony, the defense had already disputed that claim in opening statements. They also insisted that Hayes felt threatened by Smith and his friends, who were traveling together in three cars that night after the Smiths attended the annual French Quarter festival, had dinner at a steakhouse and then met friends at a sushi restaurant.

On cross-examination just before Tuesday's proceedings ended, Racquel Smith acknowledged that her husband had had alcoholic beverages throughout the day of the shooting, beginning with one at the festival, more at a bar they visited later, wine with dinner and more drinks at the sushi restaurant.

Lawyers have said a toxicology report showed Smith was legally drunk the night of the shooting. But Racquel Smith insisted her husband did nothing to provoke the gunfire.

Attorneys on both sides have suggested that Louisiana's "stand your ground" law will be at issue during the trial. Hayes, 29, faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. He's also charged with attempted murder after wounding the retired NFL player's wife.

Video showed Smith's SUV appearing to bump into Hayes' Hummer before, blocks later, the Hummer slammed into Smith's car. Both men then got out and exchanged angry words as Hayes displayed his handgun. Exactly what happened next is the focus of the trial.

Racquel said that she and her husband didn't believe their vehicle had actually hit the Hummer when they drove away.

Hayes' lawyer, Jay Daniels, says Smith and the friends were the aggressors, and Hayes only fired because Smith was reaching for his own gun.

"Will Smith went to his glove box to get his gun," Daniels insisted.

Assistant New Orleans District Attorney Jason Napoli rejected that idea in his opening statement. He said nothing corroborates the defense claim that Smith was going back to his car to get a gun when Hayes shot him, but even if that were true, it wouldn't justify shooting him in the back.

"That isn't even close to self-defense," Napoli said. "That's murder."

Smith was shot once in the left side and seven times in the back. Napoli said physical evidence indicates that Smith was facing Hayes when he was first shot, and not reaching for a gun in his car.

Napoli also said Hayes provoked the confrontation by willfully ramming his Hummer into Smith's SUV. Hayes' lawyer countered that it was an accident, and blamed it on Hayes looking at his phone and trying to dial 911 to report the SUV's license number after Smith drove away from the earlier contact.

Napoli conceded that Smith was intoxicated that night but downplayed the significance, telling the jury that the irony of Smith's death is that the defensive football star "died defenseless."

Smith led the defense on the 2006 Saints team that helped lift the stricken city's spirits with a winning season after Hurricane Katrina. He also helped New Orleans win its only Super Bowl three seasons later.

Hayes played football, too — in a semiprofessional league — and owns a tow-truck company. Friends described him as soft-spoken and even-tempered — not the type to erupt into a lethal road rage.

Jurors will be sequestered during a trial lawyers said could last seven to 10 days.

The courtroom audience Tuesday included quarterback Drew Brees; former safety Steve Gleason, now battling Lou Gehrig's disease; safety Roman Harper; and guard Jahri Evans. Former running back Deuce McAllister was the first person called to testify, choking up at the loss of his friend.