Former first round pick and Super Bowl XLIV champion Will Smith was shot to death on the night of April 9 at the age of 34. Following initial reports that the shooting was the result of a traffic incident, video footage and conflicting accounts from both party’s lawyers illustrate a much more complex case.
The former New Orleans Saints defensive end was out with his wife and friends the night of the incident. Among the party was Smith’s former teammate Pierre Thomas and former New Orleans police captain Billy Ceravolo. Following the dining and drinking at Sake Café, Smith, his wife Racquel and another unidentified man and woman exited the restaurant and drove off in Smith’s Mercedes Benz SUV.
Surveillance video shows a car resembling Smith’s SUV trailing what appears to be an orange Hummer H2. The H2 was the same car found at the murder scene later that night and is owned by the suspected shooter, Cardell Hayes. The video shows the Hummer stopping short and the SUV slamming its brakes to avoid colliding with the Hummer. The Hummer pulls to the side of the road, seemingly to address the near crash, but the SUV skirts the Hummer and drives away. Less than three blocks away and 10 minutes later, at the intersection of Felicity Street and Sophie Wright Place, Smith’s Mercedes is rear-ended by Hayes’ Hummer, shattering the rear windshield and leading both men to exit their vehicles and engage in a verbal altercation.
Smith was shot following this dispute, with police saying his body was found “partially inside his vehicle.” According to the coroner, he was shot eight times, seven in the back. While his wife, it is now reported, was the first one shot. She was rushed to the hospital and suffered non-life threatening injuries. Hayes made no attempt to flee the scene, and police recovered a .45 caliber handgun, which is thought to be the murder weapon. Also discovered, but days later, were other loaded weapons in both cars, although Smith had no weapon on his person at the time of the shooting. The case remains to be solved, and Hayes’ lawyer is adamant that his client is not guilty of the second-degree murder charge.
Many aspects of this incident are jarring and show numerous underlying connections between the victim and suspect. The same police captain at Smith’s dinner party was being sued by Hayes over the death of his father, who had been shot to death by officers in 2006. This connection shows that the issue may be deeper than merely a cold-blooded killing. That said, Hayes’ behavior following the shooting does not correlate with that of a guilty aggressor, as he was very cooperative. Hayes’ lawyer, via CNN, stated, “Now, tell me if that’s the behavior that’s consistent with someone who’s an animal out here looking for blood.” His cooperation with the investigation could be seen as an action of compliancy, and not that of a guilty, deranged killer.
Hayes’ lawyer also said that he was a victim of a hit-and-run, and was only tailing Smith at the time of the confrontation to get a license plate number. Lawyers from both sides continue to offer varying depictions of what happened the night of the shooting, with each calling the other the aggressor. Questions remain about what led Hayes to target a professional football player, how the presence of loaded weapons may have escalated the situation and what was said in the moments leading to Smith’s death. Regardless of who the legal system finds guilty, the presence of a loaded weapon can never end well, especially for a professional athlete.