iStock/Thinkstock(NEW ORLEANS) — Witnesses to the fatal shooting of former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith took the stand this week as the trial of Smith’s accused murderer, Cardell Hayes, began in Louisiana.
Smith, 34, died from an apparent road-rage shooting after an altercation with Hayes in New Orleans on April 9.
Hayes, a former semi-professional football player, was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting. He has pleaded not guilty. Hayes is also charged with attempted second-degree murder for allegedly shooting and injuring Smith’s wife in the incident.
According to The Times-Picayune, Hayes’ attorney, John Fuller, said that Hayes felt threatened and was the victim of a hit-and-run by either Smith or Smith’s friends driving in a separate car just moments before Hayes’ orange Hummer was involved in an accident with Smith’s Mercedes SUV.
“My client was not the aggressor,” Hayes said in a court appearance in April, The Times-Picayune reported.
Here is a recap from this week’s testimony so far from witnesses for the prosecution and what they say they saw that night:
Kevin O’Neal, a passenger in the Hummer driven by Hayes, testified Thursday about the alleged initial bump, the rear-end collision and what he described as a hostile and chaotic scene leading up to the shooting.
O’Neal said while they were driving that night, Hayes asked O’Neal: “Did someone just hit us?” and O’Neal said, “Yes.”
O’Neal said they then pulled to the side, and the other car sped up. O’Neal said they followed to try to take a picture of the car’s license plate to report it to 911.
According to local ABC affiliate WGNO-TV, O’Neal said when they were at a red light and it turned green, Smith hit the brakes, causing Hayes to hit Smith. Police said the rear window of Smith’s Mercedes SUV shattered from the impact.
O’Neal said that they were then approached by various individuals. He said he noticed two men advancing him from the right side from a different car, WGNO reported. O’Neal said one man said, “I feel played. Someone hit us. Someone hit us twice,” WGNO reported.
O’Neal also said that both men were behaving erratically, WGNO reported. “Before anyone was shot, Mr. Hayes was under attack as well as myself,” O’Neal testified. “I stated that myself and Mr. Hayes did not want a physical altercation.”
Separately, O’Neal testified that at one point, he could see multiple people attempting to restrain Smith, who had gotten out of the Mercedes SUV, WGNO reported. But, according to O’Neal, Smith broke away and “charged” him and Hayes.
O’Neal said Hayes and Smith exchanged words, but he could not distinguish who was saying what, WGNO reported. O’Neal said he heard someone say, “You hit me” followed by, “You hit me first.”
O’Neal said Smith’s wife “was attempting to restrain” her husband “and push him back to his vehicle.”
During cross-examination, O’Neal said that Hayes told him that Smith was going to get a gun out of his car, according to WGNO.
When asked by Fuller why they didn’t flee, O’Neal answered, “We didn’t do anything wrong.”
O’Neal said in cross-examination that Hayes was emotional and remorseful after the shooting, according to WGNO.
The prosecution concluded re-direct showing O’Neal a picture of Smith’s son and pointed out that his birthday is on Friday. O’Neal responded that Smith brought about his own demise, and Racquel Smith wept in the courtroom.
Wife Racquel Smith
Will Smith’s wife, Racquel Smith, who was also shot in the April incident, broke down on the stand Tuesday, saying, “My worst nightmare happened for no reason.”
“I don’t want sympathy, I want justice,” she said on the stand, according to local ABC affiliate WGNO. “He is not here today so I am his voice.”
She said the morning of the shooting she and her husband “got dressed, we kissed the kids goodbye, and we told them we would be back,” WGNO reported.
The former Saints player posted a photo the day of the shooting, writing that he was “having a blast” at New Orleans’ French Quarter Fest.
Racquel Smith said she was standing outside of the Mercedes SUV during the altercation between her husband and Hayes, WGNO reported.
According to WGNO, Racquel Smith testified that at one point during the alleged, “I looked at my husband in the eyes and said this is not worth it … and he walked away with me.”
“We were walking back to the car and I heard a ‘pop pop,'” she said, according to WGNO. “I fell to the ground and played dead then I heard more pops.”
Former Teammate Pierre Thomas
Will Smith’s friend and former teammate, Pierre Thomas, appeared emotional on the stand, at times, while giving his account on Wednesday.
Thomas testified that he was in a car ahead of the Smiths that night when he noticed smoke behind him. He said he stopped, got out and discovered there had been an accident; he saw Will Smith and Hayes arguing “back and forth.”
“I never saw any physical contact,” Thomas said.
He said he heard the first shot, then saw Hayes with a gun in his hand as Hayes turned and continued to shoot at Will Smith.
Thomas said he walked to the passenger side window of Smith’s car and “saw Will slouched over the steering wheel.”
Friend Rebecca Dooley
Rebecca Dooley, who was in the car with the Smiths the night of the shooting along with her husband, Richard Hernandez, testified Wednesday, saying, “Mr. Hayes was walking toward Will with a gun pointing at him. And I heard shots fired.”
After the shooting, Hayes appeared to have “no remorse,” Dooley said.
In her testimony, Dooley said Will Smith was driving that night and Hernandez was next to him. WGNO reported her testimony as follows:
Dooley said the incident began when an orange Hummer in front of them slammed on its brakes; Will Smith slammed on his in response.
“There was no impact,” Dooley said.
They continued driving and she said she noticed headlights approaching the Mercedes SUV very quickly; she said she saw the Hummer following them. Dooley said an impact followed, during which the Mercedes SUV glass shattered.
She testified that she and Racquel Smith got out of the car and saw Will Smith and Hayes arguing over who was responsible for the collision. “They both seemed angry,” she said.
Racquel Smith got in between Will Smith and Hayes and tried to defuse the situation, Dooley continued in her testimony.
After that, Dooley said she saw Hayes walking toward Will Smith with a gun.
She cried on the stand describing the aftermath of the shooting. Will Smith fell into the car, not moving, after he was shot, she said.
Dooley testified that then Hayes said over Will Smith’s body, “Look at you now, you were showing off.”
She said that she and her husband took shelter behind some bushes and she heard Hayes say, “Where’s that white boy at,” apparently referring to Hernandez.
Dooley said she pleaded with her husband not to go over there.
Friend Richard Hernandez
Hernandez testified as follows on Wednesday, according to WGNO:
The father of two and friend of the Smiths told prosecutors that Hayes’ Hummer pulled out in front of them that night, prompting Will Smith to slam on the brakes. Hernandez said they didn’t hit the Hummer, but shortly after, Hayes crashed into the back of Will Smith’s Mercedes SUV. Hernandez said it seemed like the hit was on purpose.
Hernandez testified that Will Smith got out of his car and confronted Hayes about the crash, and Hayes accused the ex-NFL player of striking him first. The passenger in Hayes’ Hummer, Kevin O’Neal, also got out of the car, and Hernandez said he sensed a fight was about to happen.
Hernandez said O’Neal took a swing at him. Then, shots were fired, he said.
Hernandez told prosecutors he feared for his life when he heard Hayes allegedly say, “Where’s the white boy?”
“I was scared,” Hernandez said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m next.'”
Hernandez said his wife urged him to flee, so he got in a taxi and left the scene.
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