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Man convicted in death of Saints star Will Smith appeals

February 16, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A man convicted in the shooting death of retired New Orleans Saints star Will Smith has appealed the conviction and 25-year-sentence arising from a confrontation after a 2016 traffic collision.

Cardell Hayes was convicted of manslaughter in December 2016 in Smith’s death and of attempted manslaughter because Smith’s wife, Raquel, was shot in both legs during the encounter in April of that year.

But Hayes’ attorney Paul Barker wrote in an appeal filed Thursday that the judge who tried Hayes should have granted a new trial because a witness who contacted Barker the day after Hayes’ conviction said he had heard two guns at the time of the shooting, buttressing Hayes’ claim that he had fired in self-defense.

Prosecutors on Friday rejected the arguments as “falsehoods.”

Hayes’ lawyers had argued at trial that he only fired because the retired NFL player was drunk and violent and had grabbed a gun following their collision. No one else testified Smith ever held a gun. A loaded .9-mm semi-automatic handgun was found loaded but unused on the front seat of Smith’s car.

Barker’s appeal Thursday also contended the trial judge, Camille Buras, should have allowed testimony about Smith’s 2010 arrest on a domestic abuse charge. That would have shown he could be violent when drunk, Barker wrote. Barker also wrote in the filing that other errors included allowing victim impact testimony before the trial’s sentencing phase, and by “suggestively” re-reading jury instructions.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said in a statement Friday that prosecutors had proved Hayes’ guilt and that Buras managed “this difficult trial fairly and impeccably.”

“The falsehoods within this appeal make only one thing clear: That Cardell Hayes has yet to accept the consequences of his rash decision to open fire on an innocent couple,” the emailed statement said. It added that Hayes’ latest arguments make clear he “has yet to begin the rehabilitation necessary to one day return as a responsible and law-abiding member of our community.”

Smith, a 34-year-old father of three, was a defensive leader on the Saints team that lifted spirits in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. He helped carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl victory four years later. His death in a dispute over traffic was shocking, even for a city with a high rate of homicides.

In his filing Thursday, Barker said a new witness, Michael Burnside, emailed him the last day of the trial, when he was not checking email because he was “preoccupied with closing arguments and jury deliberations.” The email said Burnside had heard two guns at the time Smith was shot. Reached the next day, Burnside said he had heard four “baps” consistent with a small-caliber gun before a “boom” consistent with a larger-caliber weapon like Hayes’.

“Mr. Burnside states that the first “boom” of the larger caliber weapon overlapped the last “bap” of the smaller caliber weapon,” Barker wrote. That backs up Hayes’ testimony that Smith fired at him first, he said.

Barker also said the judge didn’t let trial lawyer John Fuller question retired Saints running back Deuce McAllister, the first prosecution witness, about Smith’s “arrest for abusing Raquel Smith while out at a bar in Lafayette.”

Smith was arrested outside a bar, accused of pulling his wife down the street by her hair. He was indicted in 2011 on misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse battery and public intoxication. Lafayette Parish prosecutors dropped the charges in 2012 after Smith completed community service and participated in counseling.

McAlister had testified about Smith’s good character, opening the way to rebuttal testimony which the judge didn’t allow, Barker wrote.

“The state elicited pages of testimony from Deuce McAllister detailing the good moral qualities of the victim, the tremendous impact on the victim’s family, and the impact on the New Orleans Saints franchise,” he wrote.

He said that “went beyond the proper scope of examination,” causing prejudice against Hayes and violating his right to a fair trial.

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