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Murder of a Hero’: Prosecutors to Seek Maximum Sentence in Killing of Saints’ Will Smith

Cardell Hayes found guilty of manslaughter in death of NFL player Will Smith 0:37

The killing of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith in a road rage confrontation was the "murder of a hero," a local prosecutor said Monday, adding that he would seek the maximum penalty for Cardell Hayes.

"The minimum sentence that the judge must impose is 20 years," Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said at a press conference. "We will do our best to get the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 60 years."

Hayes was charged with second-degree murder in Smith's death and second-degree attempted murder for injuring Smith's wife Racquel on April 9, when he opened fire on their car after a traffic accident. He was found guilty Sunday of a lesser charge of manslaughter, plus attempted manslaughter for wounding Racquel.

Related: Ex-New Orleans Saints Star Will Smith's Killer Guilty of Manslaughter

He faces 20 to 40 years in prison for the manslaughter conviction and up to 20 years for the attempted manslaughter count.

Image: Former New Orleans Saint Will Smith
Defensive end Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints is on the field during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on September 26, 2004 in St. Louis, Missouri. Saints defeated the Rams 28-25 in overtime. Harry How / Getty Images, file

Cannizzaro praised the numerous football players and their wives who came to the courtroom during Hayes' trial to support Racquel, and said the killing had deeply impacted the community.

"This was the murder of a hero," he said.

Peter Thompson, an attorney for Racquel shared a statement on her behalf thanking the district attorney's team for taking the time "To learn about Will, to learn about his life, his relationship with Racquel."

"That said, it's unfortunate — and Racquel wanted me to be clear to make this point — that although Mr. Hayes does now stand convicted of this crime, it's very unfortunate that another child will grow up without a father, but Mr. Hayes, regardless of that, must face the consequences for his actions under our system of laws," Thompson said.

Attorneys for Hayes, 29, had argued that he fired in self-defense and said he suffered consequences of a shoddy investigation conducted by authorities whose judgment was clouded by the fact they had lost a beloved sports icon.

Defense attorney John Fuller, during a four-hour closing argument, told jurors not to be "star-struck" by the "parade" of Smith's famous former teammates who came to the week-long trial — including quarterback Drew Brees and former running back Deuce McAllister.

Cannizzaro said Monday that Hayes wasn't treated any differently than anyone else would have been in the criminal justice system.

"If you violate the law, I don't care who you are, we're going to pursue you," he said, adding that Smith's "celebrity status had absolutely nothing to do" with the outcome of the case or the decision to pursue maximum charges.

Meanwhile, another case with similarities to Smith's is ongoing: Gunman Ronald Gasser is charged with fatally shooting ex-NFL running back Joe McKnight in the New Orleans suburb of Terrytown. Gasser faces manslaughter charges.