NEW ORLEANS -- Cardell Hayes, the man convicted of shooting and killing former Saints player Will Smith has been sentenced to 25 years in prison, Judge Camille Buras ruled Thursday.
Hayes was given 25 years for manslaughter for killing Will Smith and 15 years for attempted manslaughter for wounding Racquel Smith. Those sentences will be served concurrently, amounting to 25 years in prison.
Hayes was expected to face anywhere between 20 and 60 years, putting this sentence on the lighter side. Judge Buras said a sentence any less than that would deprecate the seriousness of the offense.
At the end, neither side was totally satisfied, though Hayes' attorney John Fuller said, "it could have been worse." (story continues below video)
Fuller said he did not discuss the sentence's length with Hayes afterward.
"Our conversation only had to do with with me expressing my love for him."
Raquel Smith issued a statement expressing her disappointment. "We know nothing will ever bring Will back, we were hopeful that Judge Buras would have issued a stronger sentence to more justly reflect both the nature of the crimes and the tremendous loss and pain that my family has suffered."
Before noon, during testimony, an emotional Cardell Hayes told the family of Will Smith that he wishes he would’ve died instead instead of Smith the night he gunned down the former Saints star on a Lower Garden District street after a road-rage incident.
“I should have just let him (Smith) kill me,” said Hayes, who faces decades behind bars for the killing of Smith and the wounding of his wife. “Being away from my son for 60 years, what’s the difference from being dead?”
His words began the second day of testimony in his sentencing hearing, a morning punctuated by highly-emotional testimony from Hayes’ mother who pleaded with the court to lock her up instead.
“Just lock me up to give me my son back!” Dawn Mumphrey, Hayes’ mother, begged. “Punish me instead!”
What might have otherwise been a routine proceeding became extended hearing after his attorney, John Fuller, filed a motion for a new trial Tuesday, a day ahead of the scheduled sentencing. Judge Buras denied that request, but allowed victim-impact statements to begin Wednesday.
Hayes has maintained that he fired at Smith because he feared for his life once the men began to argue after Hayes ran into the back of Smith's SUV late April 9, 2016.
A jury convicted him of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter for shooting Smith's wife in the leg.
Though he cried on the stand Thursday, he also became defensive when Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli asked him if he felt remorse for his actions. A day earlier, Racquel Smith said all she ever wanted was for Hayes to tell her he was sorry for what happened.
“I did not stand over Will and pump seven shots into his back like you said,” Hayes told Napoli. “I apologize for their loss. I can say it a million times. I wish that night never happened.”
Looking at the Smith family, Hayes, who played semi-professional football, said he looked up to Smith. “I would never just purposefully take his life. I can’t blame y’all for hating me”
He said he took responsibility for actions by staying on the scene to wait for police and talking to them once they arrived. “If I didn’t take responsibility for what happened … I would’ve ran.”
He also spoke about the later humiliation of being in jail.
“I’m not proud of it at all since I have to come up here in shackles like an animal,” he said.
Among those who took the stand in Hayes’ defense was Dennis Martin, his former football coach at Warren Easton High school.
He remembered Hayes a student equally dedicated to excellence in the classroom and on the field.
Martin, who also serves as a minister at the Orleans Parish jail, learned of Hayes arrest when Hayes tapped Martin’s shoulder while he led a Bible study session inside the jail.
Martin said he was direct with Hayes that night. “You and Will were (both) wrong because you operated in anger,” he recalled telling Hayes.
He ended his testimony with a request for Buras.
“All I’m asking for is something I should’ve have the audacity for -- for my ball player, that you give him mercy.”
That was the same request from Hayes’ mother, whose uncontrollable sobbing led to a brief recess while she composed herself.
She began by telling the court she wanted Hayes to be “something other than just hanging on the street, and he was. … My child was very active in the community.”
Emotion quickly overcame Hayes’ mother, who said she would do anything to undo that night last April.
“I would give my life if it would bring your husband back,” she told Racquel Smith as she shook with emotion. “I can’t tell you enough how sorry I am.”
Hayes never looked at his mother as she testified. His bulky 6’4” frame was hunched over the defense table as he rocked back and forth while she spoke.
“Please, please have mercy in your heart,” Mumphrey asked Buras. “Judge, please don’t take my son from me.”
Fuller reminded Hayes he could be in prison for the next 60 years, based on Buras’ decision, and asked how being away from his son that long would affect him.
“Being away from my son this year has killed me,” he responded softly. “Being away from my son for 60 years, what’s the difference from being dead?”