‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense Tested in Trial over Death of NFL’s Will Smith

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The man who shot former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith is a raging killer who first shot Smith’s wife in the legs, then fired eight bullets into the side and back of the unarmed NFL star, a prosecutor declared Tuesday.

photo provided by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office shows Cardell Hayes. The trial for Hayes charged with second-degree murder in the April 9 shooting death of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith begins with jury selection Monday, Dec. 5. (Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
(Left) Photo provided by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office shows Cardell Hayes. The trial for Hayes charged with second-degree murder in the April 9 shooting death of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith (right) begins with jury selection Monday, Dec. 5. (AP Photos/ New Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and Bill Kostroun, File)

Cardell Hayes’ defense lawyer countered that he fired in self-defense, fearing that the angry Smith was fetching a gun from his SUV during their heated argument following a traffic accident.

Attorneys on both sides have suggested that Louisiana’s “stand your ground” law will be at issue during the trial of Hayes, 29, who faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. He’s also charged with attempted murder after wounding the retired NFL player’s wife, Racquel Smith.

Racquel Smith, center, widow of former New Orleans Saints NFL player Will Smith, walks from Orleans criminal court, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in New Orleans, after a lunch break in the trial for Cardell Hayes, who shot and killed Smith and wounded Racquel. Attorneys on both sides have suggested that Louisiana’s “stand your ground” law will be at issue during the trial of Hayes, 29, who faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. He’s also charged with attempted murder after wounding Ms. Smith. Behind, second left, is former Saints running back Deuce McAllister. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Video showed Smith’s SUV appearing to bump into Hayes’ Hummer before, blocks later, the Hummer slammed into Smith’s car. Both men then got out and exchanged angry words as Hayes displayed his handgun. Exactly what happened next will be the focus of the trial.

Hayes’ lawyer, Jay Daniels, says the aggressors were Smith and the friends who were out with him and his wife that night last April. And he says Hayes only fired after Smith reached for his own gun.

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“Will Smith went to his glove box to get his gun,” Daniels insisted.

Assistant New Orleans District Attorney Jason Napoli rejected that idea in his opening statement. He said nothing corroborates the defense claim that Smith was going back to his car to get a gun when Hayes shot him, but even if that were true, it wouldn’t justify shooting him in the back.

Former New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister, right, and Saints safety Roman Harper walk from the Orleans Criminal District Court,  Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in New Orleans, during a lunch recess in the Cardell Hayes trial in the shooting death of former Saints football player Will Smith, and the wounding of his wife Racquel. Attorneys on both sides have suggested that Louisiana's "stand your ground" law will be at issue during the trial of Hayes, 29, who faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. He's also charged with attempted murder after wounding Ms. Smith.  (Matthew Hinton/The Advocate via AP)
Former New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister, right, and Saints safety Roman Harper walk from the Orleans Criminal District Court, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in New Orleans, during a lunch recess in the Cardell Hayes trial in the shooting death of former Saints football player Will Smith, and the wounding of his wife Racquel. Attorneys on both sides have suggested that Louisiana’s “stand your ground” law will be at issue during the trial of Hayes, 29, who faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. He’s also charged with attempted murder after wounding Ms. Smith. (Matthew Hinton/The Advocate via AP)

“That isn’t even close to self-defense,” Napoli said. “That’s murder.”

Smith was shot once in the left side and seven times in the back. Napoli said that physical evidence indicates that Smith was facing Hayes when he was first shot, and not reaching for a gun in his car.

Napoli also said that Hayes provoked the confrontation by willfully ramming his Hummer into Smith’s SUV. Hayes’s lawyer countered that it was an accident, and blamed it on Hayes looking at his phone and trying to dial 911 to report the SUV’s license number after Smith drove away from the earlier contact.

Napoli conceded that Smith was intoxicated that night, but downplayed the significance, telling the jury that the irony of Smith’s death is that the defensive football star “died defenseless.”

A 12-member jury was seated late Monday after potential jurors were asked about their attitudes on lethal self-defense. They also were asked whether they can put aside opinions formed amid intense media coverage of Smith’s death, and any feelings about Smith’s popularity as an NFL star.

Smith was a defensive leader on the 2006 Saints team that helped lift the stricken city’s spirits with a winning season after Hurricane Katrina. He played with the team when New Orleans won the franchise’s only Super Bowl three seasons later.

Hayes is a former semiprofessional football player, owner of a tow-truck company and the father of a 5-year-old son. Hayes is described by friends as soft-spoken and even-tempered — not the type to erupt into a lethal road rage.

Jurors will be sequestered during a trial lawyers said could last seven to 10 days.