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Apr 13, 2016 9:37 PM

Lawyers disagree on whether Smith handled gun at shooting

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) An enraged Hummer driver chased down former Saints defensive end Will Smith's Mercedes, deliberately rammed the SUV from behind, angrily confronted him in the street and then shot him eight times, yelling over his dying body as his wounded wife tried to crawl away, the Smith family's lawyer said Wednesday.

But a lawyer for the man accused of the shooting disputed that version of events, said a witness saw Smith with a weapon that night and called this case the "ultimate example of a person being prejudged."

Racquel Smith wanted everyone to know that her husband was "her Superman" and that he died trying to protect her, Smith family attorney Peter Thomson said. But Smith never pulled out his own handgun, which remained loaded but unused in a compartment inside his Mercedes, he said.

Four days after the fatal shooting, Thomson laid out a version of what happened that he said was based on the recollections of Racquel Smith and other witnesses, seeking to dispel what he called "lies and factual distortion" spread by the man police identified as Smith's killer.

In the tumultuous aftermath of Smith's death, competing narratives have emerged about the minutes leading up to the shooting. Police are still sorting through facts, witness statements and videos as the grieving city copes with the loss of one of its sports heroes.

John Fuller, a lawyer for Hummer driver Cardell Hayes, has said his client felt threatened and was not the aggressor. Hayes is jailed on $1 million bond after being arrested by police on a murder charge.

Thomson said the real victims were the Smiths, who were enjoying a "regular night" with some friends before they encountered Hayes.

"Suddenly this Hummer drove up at great speed behind them and rammed into them violently, causing their back windshield to shatter, their heads to whip back, and their car to hit the Chevy Impala in front of them," Thomson said.

Hayes and his passenger then got out and angrily approached the Mercedes. Smith got out, too, and asked why they were attacking him. Thomson called Hayes "enraged."

He said Smith's wife and their female passenger got out to defuse the situation, walking Smith back to his car, "but the killer follows."

"Suddenly, two shots are fired. She is shot immediately in both legs and she collapses," Thomson said. "The killer unloads six to eight shots into Will's back." The lawyer said Hayes showed no remorse and "actually stood over Will Smith's dead body as his wife crawled away."

The coroner's report Wednesday said seven of the bullets hit his back and one in the left side of his chest.

Throughout the confrontation, Smith's licensed handgun remained in a compartment inside his car, Thomson said. Smith had a permit to carry the concealed weapon in Louisiana but he said Smith never took the weapon out of its compartment.

Hayes' lawyer Fuller directly contradicted that, saying a witness saw Smith in possession of the gun that night.

After police had earlier reported confiscating one weapon at the scene, Fuller suggested that another weapon was also there.

"How would my client know that to tell me that if someone didn't brandish that firearm?" he said Wednesday.

When asked whether witnesses had seen a gun in Smith's possession during the night of the shooting, Fuller said: "At least one, yes." Fuller said he had talked with four witnesses but did not identify them.

Police confirmed that a 9 mm handgun, loaded but unfired, was found inside Smith's SUV. Police also said Hayes, 28, acknowledged at the scene that he fired his .45-caliber handgun at Smith and his wife. Another gun, also loaded but unfired, was found inside Hayes' Hummer. An additional charge for Racquel Smith's injury is pending, police said.

Fuller questioned why it took police so long to find the other weapons, saying: "That's odd." He repeatedly said that his client was not the aggressor, that he was "legally not guilty" and disputed the contention that Hayes chased the Smiths down and deliberately rammed their vehicle and then stood over their bodies yelling.

"This case is the ultimate example of a person being prejudged," Fuller said. "Cardell Hayes was tried and convicted before I got out of church Sunday morning."

There's no dispute at this point that the shooting was precipitated by an earlier encounter. Hayes' lawyer, John Fuller, has described it as a hit-and-run, and insisted that his client will be vindicated once the full story emerges. He said Hayes had responsibly called 911 and was following the vehicle that hit him to read the license plate number just before the fatal confrontation.

Thomson rebutted that, saying the Hummer had stopped suddenly, causing Smith to brake quickly, and that if any contact happened between them, it was so slight that the two couples thought the cars might not have touched at all.

He said the consensus in the car was that they didn't hit Hayes' vehicle, they didn't see any damage and they were concerned for their safety so they continued.

"There is nothing, nothing, Will Smith could have ever said" to justify the shooting, Thomson concluded.

The case has riveted a city where Smith, 34, was a fan favorite. Born in New York, Smith came to New Orleans from Ohio State and quickly became a team leader. After retirement, he chose to stay, showing commitment to the city as it recovered from Hurricane Katrina, and supporting a foundation that helped women and children.

A public visitation will be held Friday and a private funeral and burial will be held Saturday.


Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

This story has been corrected to show the lawyer's name is Peter Thomson, not Robert Thompson.


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