Supreme Court tosses verdict in killing of Saints’ Will Smith

Barry Werner
·2 min read

The United States’ Supreme Court vacated the manslaughter conviction of Cardell Hayes in the 2016 killing of New Orleans Saint defensive lineman Will Smith.

Smith was shot to death after an automobile incident. His car hit Hayes’ car and the Saint drove off. Hayes followed Smith and shot him in the subsequent altercation.

Hayes was charged with second-degree murder after shooting Smith during an altercation that followed a traffic incident in the Lower Garden District. But an Orleans Parish jury ended up convicting Hayes of a lesser crime, manslaughter, on a split 10-2 vote.

The ruling is based on the SCOTUS finding Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury verdicts unconstitutional in the Ramos v. Louisiana case, allowing all convictions still on appeal to get a new review in light of Ramos. The high court looked at Hayes’ case Monday morning and vacated the conviction, sending the case back to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans for review.

The 4th Circuit is expected to grant a new trial, as appellate courts have in several other split-jury cases. In July, Ronald Gasser, who also killed a football star, former NFL running back Joe McKnight, after a road rage incident in Jefferson Parish, was already granted a new trial by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna.

It will be up to Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, who is just being sworn in Monday, whether to pursue a new case against Hayes. Because the jury convicted Hayes on a “responsive verdict,” reducing the charge from second-degree murder to manslaughter, Hayes’ appellate attorney Eric Santana says Hayes could only be charged with manslaughter the second time around.