Will Smith, Former Saints DE, Fatally Shot in New Orleans at Age 34

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent III

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 30: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints looks on against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on October 30, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The St. Louis won 31-21.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith died at 34 years old after being shot in his car on Camp Street in New Orleans late on the night of April 9. 

Michael DeMocker of NOLA.com reported the news and captured images from the crime scene:

Michael DeMocker @MichaelDeMocker

Witnesses: #Saints Will Smith shot to death in car on Camp St, wife wounded https://t.co/JNoFmnZRXk

Michael DeMocker @MichaelDeMocker

Photo: Former #Saint Pierre Thomas distraught at scene of Will Smith's murder on #NewOrleans https://t.co/3BbaEYI1lX

Wilborn P. Nobles III of NOLA.com reported the shooting occurred at 11:29 p.m. CT. "Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse confirmed Smith was the fatal victim in the incident," Nobles added. "Police said Smith's wife was wounded and was taken to a hospital. The shooter is being questioned."

Saints VP of communications and broadcasting Greg Bensel confirmed Smith was killed, and the police provided a comprehensive account of what transpired, per Garland Gillen of Fox 8:

Garland Gillen @garlandgillen

Police statement on Will Smith murder. @FOX8NOLA https://t.co/RTFpku3pgA

Lyons Yellin of WWL-TV cited a source who said two men are in custody for the double shooting and that one of the men admitted to firing the shots. Yellin also reported a police source confirmed a three-car crash and an altercation preceded the shooting.

"Orleans Parish records show Cardell Hayes was booked around 8 a.m. this morning on second-degree murder charges for the shooting of [Smith]," Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com reported Sunday. The Advocate posted Hayes' mug shot on Twitter:

New Orleans Advocate @theadvocateno

BREAKING: Cardell Hayes booked w/ 2nd degree murder in fatal shooting of ex-Saint Will Smith https://t.co/vs5GS1Wtd4 https://t.co/pmACd54BHJ

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Hayes' bond has been set for $1 million, per Ken Daley of NOLA.com.

"Hayes was a football player at Warren Easton High School in 2004 and was ranked among the top prospects in Louisiana," NOLA.com's Evan Woodbery reported. "As recently as 2015, it appears he was still playing football for the Crescent City Kings, a local developmental team."

Hayes had also sued the city of New Orleans and six New Orleans police officers in 2006 after his father was "pepper-sprayed and shot nine times by police while brandishing a knife along St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District," according to Daley.

Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu took to Twitter after hearing about the shooter:

On Wednesday, the lawyer for Hayes' passenger told NBC News, via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk, that Smith's death was self-defense.

“Smith had a gun and was going to shoot it, and Cardell may have saved both of their lives,” attorney Tanzanika Ruffin said, referring to Hayes and his passenger. “In my mind, this is justifiable homicide. We assume Will Smith is a saint, but he’s not.”

"At no time during this event did Will Smith ever brandish or carry on his person a firearm," Smith's family attorney Peter Thomson said, per Daley.

Thomson added, per Woodbery, that the gun was "in [the] compartment in the vehicle the entire time."

Woodbery cited a witness from a nearby house who reported hearing "yelling and about five gunshots" before running inside. Per Woodbery, a tourist staying at a bed-and-breakfast comforted Smith's wife Racquel, who was shot in the leg. The tourist accompanied Smith's wife until paramedics and the police arrived.

Hayes' attorney John Fuller said "at least one witness saw a gun in [Smith's] possession," per Woodbery. Fuller also said Hayes wanted to be an NFL player, and Smith "was a player he adored, who he wanted to be like." Fuller indicated that "Hayes collapsed in his chair, stunned after being told it was [Smith]," and did not know it was him until Sunday. 

On Friday, Fuller sent a letter to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asking for NOPD to be withdrawn from Smith's investigation, per Emily Lane of NOLA.com:

The letter said the defense has "a grave lack of faith in the honesty and competency" of the NOPD's investigation, citing what it called "factual misstatements from high-ranking" NOPD officials.

The letter did not detail those alleged misstatements. But Fuller has strongly suggested someone may have tampered with the crime scene. 

Yellin also provided a statement on behalf of the Smith family:

Lyons Yellin @LyonsYellin

Statement on behalf of #WillSmith family: https://t.co/BM5o5U0XTf

Smith's wife also released a statement, per Woodbery, saying Smith was a "wonderful husband, wonderful father, adored by her and adored by her children."

Thomson added, per Woodbery, "That night, as always, was trying to protect her."

Saints owner Tom Benson, wife Gayle and the organization released a statement on the team's official website, followed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (via NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy):

Our thoughts and prayers are with Will and his wife Racquel, but more importantly with their children, William, Wynter and Lisa who are suffering and just starting to realize and deal with an unimaginable loss. We are devastated and saddened by Will's tragic and preventable death due to a senseless act that will leave a lasting scar on our community forever. Will was more than an exceptional football player he was a father, a husband, a son, a brother and teammate to so many and an inspiration to countless more. He will be greatly missed by all those he touched and impacted both on and off the football field and his legacy will continue to shine. The Saints family is hurting and devastated as it has lost a member too young and too soon.

Brian McCarthy @NFLprguy

.@nflcommish statement on passing of Will Smith https://t.co/u12lcPpZJp

Saints executive vice president and general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and running back Mark Ingram, along with former Saints offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and Smith's agent Joel Segal (via Bleacher Report's Jason Cole), also released statements on Twitter:

New Orleans Saints @Saints

Statement from Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis: https://t.co/dbckcU98Lb

Sean Payton @SeanPayton

Heavy Hearts w the senseless passing of our Team Capt. Will Smith. Pray for his wife's recovery and their children. https://t.co/VomR0Sut6M

Mark Ingram II @MarkIngram22

Devastated. Lord please be with the Smith family at this tragic time. Nonsense man...

Jermon Bushrod @j_bushrod7475

Were praying for the Smith family. I'm hurt to hear about this news. This man had a beautiful family. His life taken away for nothing 😔

Jason Cole @JasonCole62

Statement from agent Joel Segal on former Saints DE Will Smith, who was murdered Sunday: https://t.co/P1lN80pJ6I

The Saints also announced that Smith was voted into the Saints Hall of Fame in March; the news was slated to be made public in May. A visitation for guests to pay their final respects to Smith will also be held Friday at the Saints' indoor practice facility, the team announced.

Jim Tressel, who coached Smith at Ohio State, also spoke on his former player's passing on Twitter:

Jim Tressel @JimTressel5

Love & prayers to the Smith family, Buckeye family & Saints family. Our brother Will--humble, caring, selfless family man. We love you Will.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith announced the school will honor Smith Saturday at the spring game.

Smith, who played all nine of his NFL seasons with the Saints, logged 67.5 sacks in his career, was named to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and played on the Super Bowl XLIV championship team.

CNN.com's Eliott C. McLaughlin and Catherine E. Shoichet noted that "Smith's foundation, Where There's A Will, There's A Way, helped to serve high school athletes in his hometown Utica, New York. He also sat on the advisory board of The Artists and Athletes Alliance."

Smith was the No. 18 overall pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft.

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