NEW ORLEANS – The man who killed retired New Orleans Saints star Will Smith and wounded his wife during a traffic dispute last year was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison for manslaughter, far less than the maximum prosecutors had called for.
Cardell Hayes faced up to 60 years if given consecutive maximum terms for manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. Instead, Judge Camille Buras gave him 15 years for shooting Racquel Smith in the legs, to be served at the same time.
Hayes, 29, also will get a year of credit for the time he's already served since shooting one of the city's sports heroes in April 2016.
Smith's widow and her family left court without saying anything. Prosecutor Christopher Bowman would say only that "the district attorney and the Smith family are disappointed with the sentence."
The beefy ex-semi-pro football lineman, who lumbered to the stand with his arms and legs shackled, broke down in tears Thursday as he talked of his 6-year-old son, and when he tried to describe the physical and mental toll his case has had on his mother. At one point, he was allowed to leave the courtroom to regain his composure.
He looked at Racquel Smith and told her he wishes the night had never happened. And later, after again insisting that he acted in self-defense as Smith fired a gun at him, despite trial evidence to the contrary, he referred to the Smith family, saying, "I apologize for their loss."
Hayes' mother, Dawn Mumphrey, later took the stand. Wailing and shaking, she pleaded for mercy from the judge and begged for the Smiths to forgive her son.
"That's my baby," she cried. "Lock me up and give me my son back."
The judge rejected a motion to retry Hayes after the defense presented a new witness Wednesday who said he heard two weapons fired the night Smith was killed.
Michael Burnside, who appeared in court with wild hair, spoke in a rambling manner, twice let slip a profanity and called himself a "coward" for not coming forward earlier. He also acknowledged that he didn't witness the killing, and the prosecutor poked other holes in his testimony.
Smith's family and NFL colleagues, meanwhile, showed their support in the courtroom. Saints coach Sean Payton took a front row seat.
Smith was cast during the trial as a beloved community leader and a football hero, part of the Saints team that lifted the city's spirits after Hurricane Katrina and later won a Super Bowl.
The defense has noted that Hayes owned a business towing cars and lacked any prior record of serious crimes. His lawyers say he feared for his life when he encountered a drunken and angry Smith that night.
Prosecutors have acknowledged that the former Saint had a high blood-alcohol level after spending a day at the city's annual French Quarter festival and the evening dining and drinking with friends. But they said he did nothing to provoke the shooting.