NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro sat down with the prosecution team behind the Cardell Hayes murder trial to discuss at length the verdict and the work that went into the high-profile trial.
Around 11 p.m. Sunday night, a jury handed down a guilty verdict against Hayes on one count of manslaughter and one count of attempted manslaughter in the killing of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith and the shooting of his with Racquel Smith.
Cannizzaro didn’t mince words while discussing the jury’s decision to go with the lesser manslaughter charges as opposed to the original second degree murder and attempted second degree murder charges.
“I believe the jury worked very very hard to do what they thought was the appropriate thing in that case,” Cannizzaro said. “Certainly, we pursued it as a second degree murder because we thought the facts supported a second degree murder…I can certainly understand the things that we had to overcome in this particular case that could have caused them [the jury] some difficulties.”
Will Smith’s blood alcohol content, his aggressive manner when exiting his vehicle and his confrontation with Hayes all played a factor in the ultimate verdict, Cannizzaro said.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue said she and her team were well aware of some of the potential stumbling blocks that they had to overcome, including the actions of Richard Hernandez, a passenger in Will Smith’s SUV the night of the shooting.
Hernandez’s actions, which Rodrigue said can only be described as “ridiculous,” included taking off his shirt, instigating a fist fight with Hayes’ passenger, and later leaving the scene.
Rodrigue credited her team’s intensive preparation for the trial with the ability to overcome any twists and turns they encountered.
“We were very eager to start this trial,” she said. “We sort of went in there knowing we were ready to go. We knew we were maybe not going to be as stylish or as articulate sometimes as the defense, but we knew if we kept going, one day at a time, if we put the work in, we were hoping that the jury would see that at the end of the day.”
Cannizzaro said his office will push for the maximum sentence when Hayes goes before the sentencing committee on February 15.
Hayes faces up to 60 years in prison on the two manslaughter charges.
Watch the full press conference below.