Man Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Killing Former Saints Player Will Smith

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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The man who shot and killed former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith in 2016 was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday.

Cardell Hayes, 36, was first convicted of the crime in December 2016 and sentenced five months later to 25 years in prison. But the jury in his first trial did not reach a unanimous verdict, voting 10–2 in favor of convicting him, and when the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that non-unanimous jury verdicts were unconstitutional, Hayes’s conviction was thrown out and he was released on bond while awaiting a new trial. The four years he served before his release will count toward his new sentence.

Hayes was convicted of manslaughter in his retrial in January. The jury acquitted him on charges of attempted manslaughter for wounding Smith’s wife, Racquel, in the shooting. Hayes had been found guilty of both charges in the first trial.

Hayes killed Smith on April 9, 2016, during a road rage incident in New Orleans. An autopsy showed that Smith’s blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit at the time of the incident and a loaded gun was found in his car, but there was no evidence to support Hayes’s claim that he acted in self-defense.

Smith played nine seasons in the NFL, from 2004 to ’12, and was known as a leader on the Saints’ defense during their championship season in ’09.

Dan Gartland


Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).