NEW ORLEANS -- Both sides rested their case today in the Will Smith murder trial after the man accused of murdering the former New Orleans Saint told his story for the first time.
Cardell Hayes was having a good day before it all went terribly wrong.
Later that night, though, he sat inside a police station and learned from attorney Nandi Campbell that a man he shot and killed was former Saints standout Will Smith, a man the amateur football player looked up to.
“I cried like a baby, man. I put my head down crying,” Hayes recalled of that night. “I said, ‘My life (is) over with.’”
But Hayes, who took the stand Saturday to defend himself during on day six his murder trial, said it was purely in self defense.
“I knew I was going to get shot. I was probably gonna die,” Hayes tesitified. “I know for a fact I was going to get shot.”
That was the start to testimony from the defendant who comfortably recalled the night of the shooting the jury when being questioned by his attorney and sometimes got combative with the state as prosecutor Jason Napoli asked him why some of his claims have not been repeated by anyone during the prior five days of testimony.
Among the claims Hayes made that no one else had made so far -- Smith had a gun in his hand after going back to his SUV, which left Hayes no choice but to open fire.
Hayes also disputed shooting Smith in the back, despite the seven bullet wounds.
Smith was enraged after Hayes slammed into the back of his Mercedes-Benz SUV, Hayes told the jury under questioning from his attorney John Fuller.
Then, Richard Hernandez, one of Smith’s friends, got out of Smith’s SUV and ripped off his shirt, signaling a fight. He also claimed Smith tossed a cup of alcohol at him and punched him in the face nearly a half-dozen times.
Hayes feared for his life, so he grabbed his gun. Hernandez say that, Hayes said, and told Smith who then went to get his own gun.
Hayes claims that Smith shouted a racial slur at him and continued, “you got your gun? Well I’m gonna get mine. I’m gonna show you what to do with it. I’m gonna show you what to do with it.”
Hayes said he then saw Smith lean into his SUV, fight with his wife who told him to put away the gun, and come out of the vehicle with the weapon.
“I see a black weapon in his hand,” Hayes said as the audience listened, including Saints head coach Sean Payton, who coached Smith. “When I fired my weapon, everything happened fast.”
Bullets flew fast, Hayes said, something he didn’t expect. “I was trying to stop my gun from shooting.”I definitely didn’t want to kill him. I don’t want to kill anybody.”
Hayes said he then rushed to Smith’s side and yelled at him, “Breath, man! Breathe!”
Much of Hayes’s testimony was the first time anyone heard a number of his claims.
Napoli pointed out that no one else ever reported seeing Smith with a gun, including Hayes’s best friend, Kevin O’Neal, who was with him in the Hummer when it careened into the back of Smith’s SUV.
“Did you ever see a gun in Will Smith’s hand?” Napoli asked.
Hayes told Napoli he did.
“You never say that -- ever (in prior statements)” Napoli responded.
He also reminded Hayes that no witnesses called to the stand testified that Smith hit Hayes.
“All of those witnesses are lying?” Napoli asked.
“I know what happened to me,” Hayes responded.
Napoli pointed out that O’Neal also never claimed Smith attacked Hayes.
“Is your best friend lying?” he asked Hayes.
“I can only speak for Cardell Hayes” the defendant answered.
Hayes also disputed that he shot Racquel Smith. But Napoli pointed out that forensic evidence found that only bullets from one gun hit the Smiths.
Another contradictory statement, Hayes disputed opening fire from behind Smith, who was shot seven times in the back and once in the side.
“There's not a single witness who says the same things you do, can you agree?” Napoli said.
“I can’t agree with that. … There’s a lot of contradiction in this case,” Hayes said with a grin.
Closing arguments will begin on Sunday.