The man who fatally shot retired New Orleans Saints defensive leader Will Smith was convicted of manslaughter on Sunday night, ending a weeklong trial in which the defendant insisted he only fired because the popular football star was drunk and violent and had grabbed a gun following a traffic crash on the night of April 9. Smith was part of the Saints team that lifted the stricken city's spirits in the years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, helping carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl win four years later. His death at the hands of Cardell Hayes, 29, was stunning, even for a city where residents are accustomed to reports of multiple gunfire deaths every week, the AP reports.
Hayes faces a possible sentence of up to 40 years in prison at his sentencing on Feb. 17. Jurors opted for the lesser charge rather than second-degree murder, which would have carried a mandatory life sentence. Hayes also was convicted of attempted manslaughter for wounding Smith's wife, Racquel Smith. "Because of the upcoming sentencing hearing, in which Racquel will provide a victim impact statement, she does not feel it is appropriate to comment on the facts of the case at this time," her lawyer said. "The main focus of Will Smith's family is to see Mr. Hayes justly sentenced for the murder he so callously committed." Hayes' defense lawyers argued Smith's popularity led to a rush to judgment by police and prosecutors, though they said they "respect the verdict."