NEW ORLEANS — Cardell Hayes was indicted on a second-degree murder charge Thursday in the death of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith. He was also charged with second-degree attempted murder of Smith’s wife, Racquel.
On a day marked by unruly behavior, with developments in multiple courtrooms, Hayes pleaded not guilty to all four counts against him, which include aggravated assault with a firearm and aggravated criminal damage to a vehicle. He was held on a total of $1.75 million bond.
Police have said Hayes’ Hummer hit Smith’s Mercedes SUV from behind on April 9, and they got into an argument in which Smith was shot and killed. The Orleans Parish coroner said Smith was shot eight times, and seven bullet wounds were in his back. Racquel Smith was shot twice in her legs, police said.
As soon as a grand jury handed down the indictment, an assistant district attorney rushed to a separate courtroom to interrupt testimony that had begun in a preliminary hearing to determine whether the state had probable cause to charge Hayes with murder. The grand jury indictment made the preliminary hearing unnecessary, and the hearing was not resumed after it was moved into the other courtroom.
As observers were filing out, a fight broke out between two women just outside the courtroom. Bailiffs broke up the fight, and the women were taken away in handcuffs.
Just before the preliminary hearing was halted, a private investigator working for Hayes’ attorneys had testified that a witness told him that she had seen a man taking a gun from Smith’s car before police arrived on the scene.
Attorneys for both sides spent the day vehemently arguing several issues, including whether the state should be forced to produce witnesses to establish probable cause. The state wanted to avoid presenting its witnesses so as to not show its hand or offer witnesses up to cross-examination this early in the case.
Hayes’ attorney, John Fuller, repeatedly accused the state of stalling and “subterfuge” to delay the preliminary hearing while the grand jury was meeting over the indictment.
Fuller called it the “fastest indictment ever” and pointed out that it came just 19 days after the April 9 shooting.
“In my 14 years practicing, I have never, in the midst of a preliminary hearing, seen an indictment handed down. What happened today was unprecedented,” Fuller said. “I’m disappointed, but I don’t think anyone that was in the courthouse was surprised.”
Peter Thomson, the attorney for the Smith family, said Thursday that Racquel and her family were pleased with the indictment.
“We’re not surprised,” he said. “And we’re very confident that once all the facts are in evidence, then the defendant will be convicted on all counts. While nothing can relieve the pain that Racquel and her family are dealing with, we feel this is a step in the right direction toward justice.”
The next hearing is a discovery set for May 18.