In a nutshell, the jury found that Cardell Hayes did not have the specific intent to kill either Will Smith or Racquel Smith.
1. The Charges
The defendant, Cardell Hayes, was charged by grand jury indictment with committing three crimes: (1) the second degree murder of Will Smith; (2) the attempted second degree murder of Racquel Smith, and (3) aggravated criminal damage to property for ramming his Hummer H2 into Smith’s Mercedes Benz SUV on the night of April 9, 2016. Hayes was found guilty of manslaughter of Will Smith and attempted manslaughter of Racquel Smith. He was found not guilty of aggravated criminal damage to property.
2. The Law
In Louisiana, second degree murder is defined, in part, under La. R.S. 14:30.1 as the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. Attempted second degree murder, under La. R.S. 14:27 and La. R.S. 14:30.1, requires proof of specific intent to kill and the commission of an act tending to accomplish that purpose. And aggravated criminal damage to property, under La. R.S. 14:55, requires the intentional damaging of any structure, watercraft, or movable, wherein it is foreseeable that human life might be endangered, by any means other than fire or explosion.
3. The Facts Alleged by the District Attorney
It was undisputed at trial that Cardell Hayes killed Smith and shot Racquel Smith, the wife of Will Smith, former NFL and New Orleans Saints football player at about 11:30 p.m. on April 9, 2016 after a three-car collision on a street in the Lower Garden District. The District Attorney contended that Cardell Hayes intentionally crashed into the back of Smith’s SUV in retaliation for an apparent bump to the rear of his own vehicle two blocks earlier on Magazine Street. Video evidence at the trial showed Will Smith’s vehicle bumping into and then going around Hayes’s vehicle. Hayes’ vehicle then chased the Smith vehicle, resulting in a three car collision. After the collision, the occupants of all three vehicles exited their vehicles. An argument ensued between Hayes and Smith. Apparently, Hayes left his vehicle with a .45-caliber handgun intending to kill Smith which he did. Smith, 34, during the argument, returned to his vehicle, was shot seven times in the back, while his wife, Racquel Smith, also was shot twice, once in each leg.
4. The Facts Alleged by the Defense
Hayes’ attorneys argued that Will Smith started the incident with a hit-and-run in when his Mercedes Benz SUV hit Hayes’ on Magazine Street. The defense argued that Hayes fired in self-defense after Smith and members of his entourage rushed Hayes and his passenger, Kevin O’Neal, after Hayes accidently ran into the back of Smith’s vehicle.
5. Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground Self-Defense Law
Louisiana Revised Statutes, 14:20(A)(1), Justifiable Homicide, provides,
A. A homicide is justifiable:
(1) When committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger.
This provision means that a person who is justified in using self-defense has no duty to retreat before he uses force or violence. In other words, a person who is legally allowed to use self-defense if he reasonably believes that he is imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger. In Louisiana, jurors cannot consider the possibility of retreat in deciding whether a killing was reasonable.
6. The Verdict
From the evidence presented and from the jury’s verdict on December 11, 2016, the jury found that Cardell Hayes did not have the specific intent to kill Will Smith or Racquel Smith. Thus, Cardell Hayes was found not guilty of second degree murder and attempted second degree murder. On the aggravated criminal damage to property charge, the jury apparently believed that there was not enough evidence to believe that Cardell Hayes intended to ram his Hummer H2 into the back of Will Smith’s Mercedes Benz. Consequently, Cardell Hayes was found not guilty of aggravated criminal damage to property.
A critical fact at the trial was Will Smith’s high level of intoxication and the fact that he was driving while intoxicated (DWI). The New Orleans Coroner’s Office said Will Smith’s blood alcohol content was .235, nearly three times the legal limit for driving. The legal limit for driving is a blood alcohol less that 0.08%. Thus, it appears that the jurors considered the fact that Will Smith actions may have contributed to the scenario that resulted his death. In other words, the jurors apparently believed that Cardell Hayes did not have the specific intent to kill Will Smith.
7. Manslaughter in Louisiana
Manslaughter is a less serious crime and a responsive verdict to the charge of second degree murder. Under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 814, Responsive verdicts; in particular, the only verdicts which may be rendered by the jury when the indictment charges second degree murder are 1. Guilty of second degree murder, 2. Guilty of manslaughter, 3. Guilty of negligent homicide, or 4. Not guilty. In other words, the jury in the trial of Cardell Hayes had no choice but to render one of the four verdicts mentioned above. By finding Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter, the jury found that the elements of second degree murder were not proven by the prosecution. Under La. R.S. 14:31, manslaughter is defined as
(1) A homicide which would be murder under either [first degree murder] or [second degree murder], but the offense is committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Provocation shall not reduce a homicide to manslaughter if the jury finds that the offender’s blood had actually cooled, or that an average person’s blood would have cooled, at the time the offense was committed; or
(2) A homicide committed, without any intent to cause death or great bodily harm
(a) When the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any felony not enumerated in Article 30 or 30.1, or of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person; or
(b) When the offender is resisting lawful arrest by means, or in a manner, not inherently dangerous, and the circumstances are such that the killing would not be murder under Article 30 or 30.1.
B. Whoever commits manslaughter shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not more than forty years. However, if the victim killed was under the age of ten years, the offender shall be imprisoned at hard labor, without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, for not less than ten years nor more than forty years.
This information has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorneys in connection with any specific situation under federal and/or Louisiana law and the applicable state or local laws that may impose additional obligations on you and/or your family member. © 2016 Gaynell Williams LLC Attorney at Law. Published December 24, 2016.
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