A look at key figures in the Will Smith case
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Trial begins Monday for Cardell Hayes, 29, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the April shooting death of former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith. A look at some of the key figures in the case:
- The dead man: Will Smith, 34. A native of Queens, New York, Smith played for Ohio State's 2002 national championship team. He graduated from the school in 2005 with a degree in criminology. He was a first-round draft choice by New Orleans in 2004. He was part of the 2006 team that put together an impressive winning season and helped lift the stricken city's spirits during a difficult recovery from Hurricane Katrina. He led the Saints with a career-high 13 sacks in the 2009 season, capped by victory in the club's only Super Bowl appearance. He settled in the city after his retirement following the 2012 season, where he was known for various charitable activities.
Smith's career and life were not without controversy. The NFL concluded that, in 2012, he was part of a locker-room pool that paid cash bonuses for heavy and even injurious hits. In 2011, Smith was indicted on misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse battery and public intoxication after Lafayette Police officers saw him grab his wife's hair in an argument. Those charges were dismissed at his wife's request after Smith went through counseling and performed community service.
- The suspect: Cardell Hayes, 29. The owner of a tow truck company, and a former player in a semiprofessional football league, Hayes is described by friends as the attentive father of one son, age 5 at the time of Hayes' arrest. Cast by an attorney for Will Smith's family as an enraged gunman, Hayes is described much differently by those who know him. Lee Green, who coached Hayes in high school, remembered him as cheerful, quiet, and something of ''a mama's boy.'' Pastor Sha'Teek Nobles of My Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church describes Hayes as an even-tempered ''nice guy.'' Hayes' only other run-in with the law was a 2010 arrest during which he was found to have a gun and codeine in his car. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug and weapon charges and his six-month sentence was suspended.
- Among the possible witnesses:
Raquel Smith. The widow of Will Smith was wounded in the legs on the night of the shooting and, judging from remarks made since by a family attorney and spokesman, would be expected to bolster the prosecution case that Hayes was the aggressor that night.
William Ceravolo, a former New Orleans police officer and a friend of Will Smith, had dined with Will and Raquel Smith prior to the shooting. In a court hearing held before Hayes was formally charged, a private detective testified that a witness told him he saw Ceravolo take a gun from the front seat of Smith's car before investigators arrived. Ceravolo's attorney has since denied that, stressing that the former officer was not present at the time of the shooting.
Former Saints running back Pierre Thomas was also with the Smiths that evening and said on his Facebook page that he witnessed the shooting.
- The lawyers: John Fuller is Hayes' defense attorney, a constant presence at the New Orleans criminal courthouse, where his relationship with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro is prickly. Fuller at one point tried unsuccessfully to have Cannizzaro's office removed from trying Hayes' case. His motion followed a 206-page report Cannizzaro distributed to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies alleging that Fuller and others sought to intimidate witnesses and jeopardized the safety of witnesses in cases unrelated to Smith's death. A judge rejected the motion.
Assistant District Attorneys Laura Rodrigue (Cannizzaro's daughter) and Jason Napoli, both veterans of high-profile criminal cases, are expected to have major prosecution roles.