NEW ORLEANS — [Breaking news alert, posted at 6:20 p.m. ET Tuesday]
New Orleans police found two additional weapons Tuesday morning while executing search warrants tied to their investigation into the shooting death of former NFL player Will Smith. Detectives found a fully loaded 9-millimeter handgun inside Smith’s vehicle, police said. They also found a fully loaded revolver inside suspect Cardell Hayes’ vehicle. “No bullet casings were found inside either vehicle, and no ballistic evidence was recovered to show that either weapon was fired during the incident,” police said.
[Previous story, posted at 2:34 p.m. ET Tuesday]
Why was Will Smith killed?
Surveillance footage revealed by CNN affiliate WVUE, taken late Saturday night in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District, may offer a clue in the shooting death of the former New Orleans Saints defensive end.
The footage shows a Mercedes SUV trailing a Hummer, until the latter vehicle stops abruptly. The Mercedes pulls up quickly too, possibly hitting it from behind. Both vehicles are a standstill briefly, until the Hummer starts to pull over; the Mercedes, though, goes around and drives off.
A short distance away and a short time later, according to police, an altercation occurred between Smith, in a Mercedes G63 SUV, and Cardell Hayes, in a Hummer H2. This time, it was the Mercedes that was rear-ended, police said.
But Hayes didn’t drive off.
And Smith ended up dead.
‘Six gun wounds to the chest’
Hayes’ lawyer insists his client wasn’t the aggressor in the incident but the victim of a hit-and-run.
“Someone hit him, the person failed to pull over,” the attorney, John Fuller, told reporters. “My client trailed behind this person in an effort to get this license plate number. My client also called 911.”
Fuller didn’t specify whether Smith — who not long before had been enjoying a fun night out with his wife and friends — was the one who rear-ended his client.
Yet police say the two men did exchange words, after which shots were fired. One person called 911 to report, according to dispatch audio, “there’s a male down with about six gun wounds to the chest.” That referred to Smith. His wife was shot once in the right leg.
Police arrived four minutes later.
They found Smith’s body “in the middle of the street, partially inside of his vehicle, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the body,” the police report said. “He died at the scene.”
Hayes was still there, too. That he didn’t leave — and, moreover, that he’d secured a witness who was heading out — is telling, according to his lawyer.
“Now, tell me if that’s the behavior that’s consistent with someone who’s an animal out here looking for blood,” Fuller said. “His actions are totally consistent with someone that is complying with a police investigation.”
Anger, sadness in New Orleans
The place where Smith’s bloody body lay, near the intersection of Sophie Wright Place and Felicity Street, has gone from crime scene to memorial.
There are balloons, flowers and other remembrances. One is a shirt from Smith’s alma mater, Ohio State University. Many more items speak to his nine seasons with the Saints, during which time he helped the franchise win its first Super Bowl. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and, the Saints announced Sunday (a month ahead of schedule), recently had been unanimously been picked to join the football team’s Hall of Fame.
Gun violence is not new to New Orleans. It’s something that Smith himself took note of a few years ago after a stretch of 20 killings in 26 days in the city.
“Please Stop the Violence!” he tweeted.
That same message is among the signs on what’s now Smith’s memorial. And it’s been echoed by his longtime coach, Sean Payton, who called it “madness” that “everyone needs a gun.”
“I hate guns,” the Saints head coach told USA Today. “I find myself leaning to the right on some issues. But on this issue, I can’t wrap my brain around it.”
His feelings were heightened by his personal relationship with Smith, who was his defensive captain as a longtime locker room leader. The fact that his three children, William, Lisa Mya and Wynter Chase, will now grow up without a father makes it even sadder, his friends said.
“Mourning the loss of a great friend and teammate, Will Smith,” tweeted New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who like Smith was part of the post-Katrina squad that went on to win Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. “Such a senseless tragedy.”
That view was echoed by Nikole Jessie, who used to live down the street from where Smith was shot. That’s how New Orleans is, she says: One moment people are out having fun and then, “boom, someone gets shot over nothing.”
“It’s really, really sad,” Jessie told CNN near the memorial site. “You know the Saints are such a part of this city.”
A second gun at the scene?
No doubt, the stature of Smith and the Saints has focused the region’s attention on his killing, more than other homicides in New Orleans over the years.
But Fuller, the lawyer representing Hayes, urged people — even if they care passionately about this case — not to jump to conclusions.
“Whether the victim is famous, infamous, popular, unpopular, black, white, Catholic, Baptist, the law applies equally to everyone,” he said. “If the law is applied fairly in this case, I think the results are going to surprise a lot of folks.”
Fuller hinted that toxicology tests, results of which should come back in about six weeks, will “absolutely” be key to his client’s case. He also suggested Hayes wasn’t the only one with a gun; in fact, in a video obtained by CNN, a witness says someone else there claimed to have a gun before the shooting.
“We have reason to believe that there may have been a second gun on the scene,” the lawyer said. “And there definitely were allusions to a second gun.”
But New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said Sunday that police “only confiscated one firearm from the scene” — the one “that we believe was used in the shooting.”
He added that investigators could learn more on that question. Still, whatever comes of their probe, Harrison called the incident a sad one for his city and those involved.
“While this was an isolated incident, it is certainly tragic at every level and on all sides,” the superintendent said. “One life is over, and another life is ruined.
“Make no mistake about it: We absolutely don’t tolerate this type of behavior on the streets of New Orleans.”