New Orleans coroner: Will Smith shot 8 times; 7 times in back

ByMike Triplett ESPN logo
Thursday, April 14, 2016

NEW ORLEANS -- The wife of former New Orleans Saintsdefensive end Will Smith, Racquel, was shot twice in the legs before Smith himself was shot eight times and killed Saturday night, according to the family's attorney, Peter M. Thomson, who told their version of events for the first time Wednesday.

In a statement Wednesday, New Orleans coroner Jeffrey Rouse confirmed that preliminary autopsy results showed Smith was shot eight times -- seven times in the back and once in the chest. The coroner preliminarily classified Smith's death as a homicide.

Rouse said in the statement that "seven of these wounds were penetrating in nature, with projectiles recovered and no corresponding exit wounds.

"These bullet tracks had entrance into the left upper back (1), left mid-back (2), left lower back (3), and left lateral chest wall (1). Many of these bullets perforated vital organs, including the lungs and heart.

"One of these wounds was a perforating wound, with both an entrance and an exit wound. This bullet entered the left upper back, traversed soft tissue, and exited from the right shoulder area."

Rouse said toxicology results will be available in approximately six to eight weeks.

Attorneys for both sides and the police all agree that Smith was shot by Cardell Hayes on Saturday night after a traffic collision and a heated exchange of words between Smith and Hayes outside of their vehicles. Hayes has been booked on second-degree murder, with charges still pending.

The two sides, however, have painted different pictures about who was the aggressor in the argument.

Thomson said that Hayes, after being rear-ended by Smith, chased after him. Thomson described Hayes as being "enraged" and said he violently slammed into Smith's vehicle from behind. But he said the witnesses he has spoken with believed that the argument between Smith and Hayes had eventually been defused, and that Smith and his wife were returning to Smith's vehicle before Hayes opened fire on them. Thomson said the first shot hit Racquel Smith in her right leg, breaking her femur, and that the second shot passed through her left thigh.

"The killer showed no remorse whatsoever," Thomson said. As Racquel Smith crawled away, cowering, Thomson said, Hayes stood over Will Smith's body.

Racquel Smith remains in the hospital but is expected to recover from her wounds.

Thomson confirmed that Will Smith had a registered firearm in his vehicle, as the police revealed Tuesday. But Thomson said he believed the gun was in a compartment, and "at no time during this event, to my knowledge at all, did Will Smith ever brandish or carry on his person a firearm."

Thomson also said he was not aware of any threats by Smith to go and get his gun.

Hayes' attorney, John Fuller, has claimed that his client was not the aggressor in the incident and said his client felt threatened. Fuller did not specify who made threats against Hayes, but he suggested that the presence of a gun in Smith's vehicle would help prove that his client was not guilty of second-degree murder.

Fuller said at least one of his witnesses said they saw a gun in Will Smith's possession Saturday night.

Fuller would not specify whether his client saw a gun in Smith's possession. But Fuller said the fact that he talked about the existence of a possible second gun on Sunday, two days before police found it, backs up the notion that a gun was seen by someone on the scene and not concealed.

"How would my client know that to tell me that if someone didn't brandish that firearm?" Fuller said.

Fuller spoke after calling a news conference Wednesday night to announce that he would no longer accept a temporary appointment as a judge in the Orleans Parish criminal district court, in part because of his commitment to his clients. Fuller would have had to step aside from his cases until the next election.

Fuller also said he believes that a cell phone video was recorded of the events leading up to the shooting, and that video has been turned over to the NOPD.

And Fuller said his client did not know until Sunday morning that Smith was the man he shot. He said that made Hayes even more dejected because he grew up wanting to be a football player and Will Smith was someone he "adored."

Fuller also referenced "possible untoward activity" by a former NOPD officer on the scene after the shooting, though he did not specify the person involved or what that activity was. Fuller implied that it could be a reason why police reported that they recovered only one gun on the scene on Saturday night. Police found two other guns Tuesday after executing a search warrant, including Smith's gun, though they said there was no evidence that Smith's gun was fired.

Fuller said the female bystander who witnessed that untoward activity fears for her life.

Earlier Wednesday, the lawyer for the passenger in Hayes' SUV said the killing was "justifiable homicide.''

That statement came from attorney Tanzanika Ruffin on behalf of the passenger, Kevin O'Neal.

O'Neal was in the SUV with Hayes, who was arrested on a second-degree murder charge after Saturday night's shooting in New Orleans. Ruffin says O'Neal believes his life was saved by Hayes because, in Ruffin's words, "Smith had a gun and was going to shoot it.''

Thomson also rejected the notion that the killing was preceded by a "hit-and-run" a few blocks away. Surveillance video from several New Orleans businesses captured a vehicle matching the description of Hayes' stopping on the street just in front of a vehicle matching the description of Smith's vehicle. It appeared that Smith's vehicle might have bumped into Hayes' vehicle.

It appeared that Hayes' vehicle then began to pull over to the side while Smith's vehicle drove off.

Thomson, however, said that the Smiths and another couple riding as passengers in their vehicle all agreed that they had not hit Hayes' vehicle. And they decided to drive away in part because of fear for their safety, not knowing why the vehicle had stopped abruptly in front of them.

Thomson also said that Smith was not too inebriated to drive.

Thomson began his comments Wednesday with a statement from Racquel Smith, who said Will was a wonderful husband and father and that "she considered him her Superman." She said that night, "as he always does, he was protecting her and trying to protect her as best he could."

"We believe she will recover physically," Thomson said. "The emotional scars, however, she will never recover from. These will last forever, for both her and the children."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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