Cardell Hayes’ passenger Kevin O’Neal says Smith was the aggressor

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – Defense lawyer John Fuller sought to paint a “softer” picture of his client Cardell Hayes as Hayes stands trial in the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith.

WGNO reporter Jacki Jing live tweeted as Fuller and District Attorney Laura Rodrigue questioned Kevin O’Neal, the passenger in Hayes’ Hummer the night Will Smith and his wife Racquel Smith were shot after a car accident.

Rebecca Dooley and her husband Richard Hernandez, who were both in the vehicle with the Smiths the night of the shooting, testified yesterday that they didn’t believe Smith’s SUV had made contact with Hayes’ Hummer on Magazine Street and that Hayes had definitely and intentionally rammed the car they were in shortly after on Sophie Wright Place.

But O’Neal painted a very different picture of the two Fender benders that led to the shooting, telling the jury that Smith’s vehicle definitely ran into the back of Hayes’ Hummer first, and that Hayes was attempting to stop when he ran into the back of Smith’s SUV.

The crash would have been much worse if Hayes had intentionally rammed Smith’s vehicle with his Hummer, O’Neal said.

“If Hayes was upset about a tap on his trunk, why would he ram and destroy his Hummer?” Fuller asked.

Once the second crash happened, O’Neal said Will Smith and Hernandez got out of their vehicle ready to fight.

O’Neal, who said he has been trained in boxing and martial arts, said he kept his cool while Hernandez took off his shirt and started spoiling for a fight.

When Fuller asked O’Neal if Hayes got out of his Hummer shooting or swinging, O’Neal answered “no.”

Smith and the occupants of his SUV were hostile, O’Neal said, and things escalated quickly.

Fuller asked if it looked like Smith wanted to exchange information, to which O’Neal responded “no.”

O’Neal described Hayes, who he calls “Bear,” as “soft.” He said Hayes was on the defensive and put his arms up, while Will Smith was “throwing” his wife Racquel off of him as she tried to calm the former Saint.

“Would Will Smith still be here if he and his friends remained calm, and would your friend be free?” Fuller asked.

“Yes,” O’Neal replied.

Tapping into a recurring theme of the defense, that Smith’s celebrity status has unduly influenced the proceedings, Fuller asked O’Neal “if everything happened the same but the roles were reversed, would Will Smith be sitting at that table?”

“I doubt it,” O’Neal replied.

When asked why O’Neal and Hayes didn’t flee after the shooting, O’Neal replied that he didn’t think that they had done anything wrong.

Fuller concluded his questioning by remarking how curious it was that the prosecution didn’t object when he asked about the role reversal.

Stay tuned for WGNO’s ongoing coverage of this case.