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Who was the aggressor? Vastly different views in retrial of man who killed ex-NFL star Smith in 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nearly eight years after retired New Orleans Saints star Will Smith was shot to death in a confrontation following a traffic crash, a long-awaited retrial got underway Tuesday for the man who pulled the trigger.

Cardell Hayes, 36, was convicted of manslaughter in December 2016 for killing Smith, and attempted manslaughter for wounding Smith's wife, whose legs were struck by bullets. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. But the 10-2 jury conviction was tossed after the Supreme Court ruled against non-unanimous verdicts. Hayes was freed on bond in March 2021, having served about four years.

Opening statements Tuesday afternoon echoed the 2016 trial as attorneys gave vastly divergent views of what happened after Hayes' vehicle ran into the back of Smith's on the night of the shooting.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Derbes told the jury Hayes “fueled” a heated exchange with Smith and passengers in both vehicles, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Defense attorney Sarah Chervinsky said Smith inflamed the arguments and intimated that he would shoot Hayes as he went to get his gun from his vehicle. “He does not want to use his gun. But within seconds, he has to," Chervinsky told the jury.

It was unclear whether Hayes would testify in his own defense in the current trial.

At his 2016 trial, Hayes said he fired at Smith, hitting him once in the side and seven times in the back, only because he believed a drunken and belligerent Smith had retrieved a gun from his SUV. He insisted on the stand that he heard a “pop” before he started shooting and that he did not shoot at Smith’s wife, who was hit in the legs.

Evidence showed Smith was intoxicated at the time of the confrontation and that there was a gun in his car. But there was no witness or forensic evidence to back up Hayes’ claim that Smith had wielded or fired a weapon.

Hayes’ retrial had been delayed multiple times for a variety of reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith, a 34-year-old father of three, was a defensive leader on the Saints team that lifted spirits in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. He helped carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl victory in 2010.

Hayes, who owned a tow truck business, once played semi-pro football and is the father of a son.