Cardell Hayes sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing ex-Saints player Will Smith

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Former Saints star Will Smith was killed last April. USATSI

Cardell Hayes -- the man that shot and killed retired Saints defensive end Will Smith and injured his wife, Racquel Smith -- was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison.

According to the Associated Press, Hayes' 25-year sentence was on a charge of manslaughter. He was also sentenced to 15 years for attempted manslaughter. Hayes was ordered to serve concurrent sentences and was given credit for time served. 

Hayes was convicted on both counts with a 10-2 vote after a six-hour jury deliberation back in December, while he was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge. Hayes had admitted to shooting and killing Smith, but claimed he did so in self-defense. 

Hayes testified that he believed Will Smith fired a gunshot in his direction first, from what appeared to be a black revolver. No such gun was recovered at the scene, and federal ATF firearms expert Meredith Acosta testified that authorities recovered no ballistics evidence indicating any gun but Hayes' was fired at the scene. Nine casings and nine bullets -- two recovered at the scene and seven pulled from Smith's body during his autopsy -- all matched Hayes' weapon, she said.

Prosecutors, however, painted a different picture -- one that the jury ultimately found more believable. 

Assistant district attorneys Jason Napoli and Laura Rodrigue conceded that Smith was intoxicated -- his blood alcohol content of .235 was nearly three times the state's legal limit to drive -- and that he certainly was angry when first confronting Hayes after being rear-ended at a calculated 15 mph, shortly before 11:30 p.m. on Sophie B. Wright Place near Felicity Street. But witnesses said Racquel Smith was calming her husband and leading him away from Hayes.

The prosecutors said Will Smith had his back to the open door of his vehicle, and could not have been reaching for a holstered gun wedged inside, when Hayes shot him in the left side while he was standing upright. They said Hayes shot another round through Racquel Smith's legs, then advanced to quickly fire seven more times into the former NFL star's back. Smith died slouched into the driver's side of his vehicle.

Smith, a 2004 first-round pick of the Saints, was 34 when he was killed. He recorded 67.5 sacks in his career, and was also part of the team that won Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.

CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

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