NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The man who fatally shot retired New Orleans Saints star Will Smith insisted Saturday that he did so only after a drunken, irate Smith retrieved a gun from his damaged SUV following an April 9 car crash.
"I knew for a fact that I was going to get shot," Cardell Hayes, 29, told the jury in his second-degree murder trial, adding that he heard a pop that he believed to be a gunshot before he fired. Hayes also insisted he didn't shoot Smith's wife Racquel that night. Prosecutors say ballistics evidence shows otherwise.
Hayes' defense lawyers rested their case Saturday afternoon, setting the stage for closing arguments and the beginning of jury deliberations Sunday.
On the stand, Hayes vehemently denied intentionally running into Smith's Mercedes SUV moments after the Mercedes appeared to have bumped Hayes' car. He said he armed himself only after he and his own passenger were accosted by Smith and Richard Hernandez, a passenger in the SUV. Hernandez, he said, wildly stripped off his shirt and took something shiny from his pocket — Hayes said he feared it was a knife.
Smith didn't initially notice the gun, Hayes said. He said Smith, 34, threw a cup containing some type of alcohol at him and punched him repeatedly. At some point during the fast-unfolding melee, Hernandez alerted Smith to Hayes' gun, Hayes said under questioning from defense lawyer John Fuller.
Hayes testified that Smith addressed him with a racial epithet and then told him, "... you got your gun. Well I'm going to get mine and I'll show you what to do with it."
Hayes said Hernandez, a white Hispanic who fled the scene, also used racial epithets.
However, race has not been raised as an alleged factor in the confrontation. Hayes and Kevin O'Neal, his passenger, are black, and so was Smith.
Hayes was calm and soft spoken under questioning from Fuller, his voice catching briefly as he noted that he has been jailed since the shooting, unable to be with his 6-year-old son. He was the only witness to place a gun in Smith's hand that night. Police say a loaded gun was found in Smith's SUV. Prosecutors say it was never fired that night and that Smith never grabbed it.
Hayes fired a .45-caliber handgun numerous times. Racquel Smith was hit twice in the legs, and Will Smith once in the side and seven times in the back. Hayes and others have testified that she tried to calm her husband that night. Some prosecution witnesses say she appeared to have done so and that there was no apparent reason for Hayes to fire.
On cross examination, Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Napoli repeatedly noted that no other witness said Smith had a gun and that Hayes never told investigators he saw a gun in Smith's hands that night.
"I never gave a full statement to anyone," Hayes said, growing testy as Napoli asked about inconsistencies in his testimony and past statements.
Prosecutors also called a rebuttal witness — a firearms expert who said there was no evidence Smith had fired a gun when he died.
The first witnesses called Saturday were friends of Hayes who said he was in a good mood and was not drinking at a party before the crash. Among Saturday morning's spectators was Saints coach Sean Payton. Smith was a defensive leader on the Payton-coached Saints team that won the 2010 Super Bowl.
Prosecutors rested their case Friday after nearly a week of hearing from witnesses, including Racquel Smith.
She and Smith's former teammate Pierre Thomas were among prosecution witnesses who said Smith's anger seemed to have cooled before the gunfire. But Hayes' passenger in the Hummer insisted that Smith and others with him were the aggressors.