NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A car crash expert told a jury in New Orleans on Friday that he believes a driver intentionally crashed his Hummer into the vehicle driven by ex-football star Will Smith on the night of April 9.
That crash led to a heated argument and gunfire that killed Smith that night. The Hummer driver, Cardell Hayes, is on trial for second-degree murder. The defense says he fired in self-defense during the confrontation with an angry, intoxicated Smith, fearing that Smith was going to fetch a gun from his damaged SUV.
Also Friday, jurors reviewed an autopsy photo and heard a pathologist testify about tests indicating that Smith had a high blood-alcohol level the night he died.
The first to testify was car crash expert Michael Sunseri. He said he put the blame for the crash squarely on Hayes, according to accounts of the morning testimony by New Orleans media. The defense challenged Sunseri's conclusions as they discussed "black box" data from the Hummer and Smith's Mercedes SUV.
Defense attorney Jay Daniels suggested Hayes may not have been paying attention and hit Smith's vehicle by accident.
It was the fifth day of Hayes' trial, which lawyers have said could last into next week.
Sunseri and the pathologist, Dr. Samantha Huber, were among the last witnesses called Friday before prosecutors rested their case.
Also called was former New Orleans police Officer Billy Ceravolo, who had been with Smith and his wife at a restaurant on the night of the killing. Defense attorneys had raised the possibility that Ceravolo, a friend of Smith's, might have tampered with evidence by removing a gun from Smith's car at the crime scene. However, prosecutors showed a video that recorded Ceravolo at a downtown hotel — where he was waiting for the Smiths — at the time of the shooting.
Ceravolo adamantly denied tampering with evidence.
Later, a private investigator called by the defense to discuss his work on the case, acknowledged under cross examination that a woman he had interviewed was mistaken when she said she saw Ceravolo remove what appeared to be a gun from Smith's SUV.
"It seems to me like she got that wrong," said investigator David Olasky, who had testified about the woman's claim at a preliminary hearing earlier this year.
Ceravolo firmly denied evidence tampering during his time on the stand. He talked about arriving at the scene well after the shooting, having been called about Smith's death by a witness, former Saints running back Pierre Thomas.
Olasky was the first witness called by the defense. It was unclear when or whether Hayes might take the stand in his own defense.