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Crime

Ex-NFL Star Will Smith’s Killer Convicted on Manslaughter in Road Rage Shooting

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AP

Cardell Hayes, the 28-year-old who shot and killed former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith earlier this year, was found guilty on Sunday of manslaughter, PEOPLE confirms.

The jury’s eight women and four men found Hayes guilty of manslaughter in the death of Will Smith and attempted manslaughter of Raquel Smith, the NFL player’s wife, following a week-long trial. He was found not guilty of aggravated criminal damage to property.

In court documents previously obtained by PEOPLE, authorities said that Will and Racquel were shot by Hayes in April after he rear-ended their vehicle with his Hummer, after which the two men “exchanged words” and Hayes “produced a handgun and shot Smith multiple times.”

Racquel received one gunshot wound to the leg but survived.

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Will and Racquel Smith
Getty

The prosecution and defense had differing assessments of the shooting.

Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli said that Smith was “defenseless” as Hayes shot him, pointing to evidence that all of the shell casings belonged to Hayes. Napoli also told the jury that witnesses saw no physical contact between the two men before the shooting.

Racquel also took the stand, describing in detail the experience of witnessing her husband’s death.

But Hayes testified that Smith punched him multiple times during the altercation and that he was acting in self-defense. His defense team also alleged Hayes’ vehicle was hit by Smith’s earlier that night, in a hit-and-run.

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Cardell Hayes
Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office via AP

In a statement following the verdict, Racquel said that her “heart is full of gratitude” for the conviction. She thanked the New Orleans District Attorney as well as the police.

Because she will provide a victim impact statement for sentencing, she declined to speak about the facts of the case.

“Racquel Smith had to watch as the love of her life was murdered,” Napoli said following the verdict, according to ABC News. In a statement Sunday, the DA’s office hailed the conviction as a “victory” for “the Smith family as well as the citizens of New Orleans.”

Hayes was originally charged with second-degree murder in Smith’s death, but — in an apparent reflection of Hayes’ defense presentation on them — the jury opted for the lesser charge. At his Feb. 17 sentencing, Hayes could receive up to 40 years in prison.

His defense attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment, and it was not immediately clear if he would appeal the verdict.