One minute Cardell Hayes was listening to a witness testify on his behalf. The next he was standing in disbelief, listening to second-degree murder and three other felony charges against him.
The defendant, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, turned to his courtroom supporters and said, “Crazy, man.”
It was a chaotic day in the legal case against the man accused of killing one of New Orleans’ beloved sports figures, former Saints defensive end Will Smith, and shooting Smith’s wife, Racquel.
When the day began at 9 a.m., Hayes was shuttled to a meeting at the district attorney’s office. At the same time, his lawyer was tied up in court on other cases, and a grand jury was meeting to decide whether Hayes should be charged.
An hour later, another legal hearing to determine probable cause began, with John Fuller, one of Hayes’ attorneys, but without Hayes.
One set of prosecutors was presenting the case to a grand jury; another was doing so in front of a judge.
The defense was upset. Upset that Hayes had been taken to the DA’s office without a lawyer, upset that the prosecution had no witnesses for the preliminary hearing, and upset that most of its 23 witnesses were also subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.
There were objections from Fuller, but eventually a judge ruled the hearing could go ahead.
Hayes, who didn’t testify for the grand jury, was brought in to the preliminary hearing after the legal wrangling was over and in time for the defense’s first witness, an EMS worker. A New Orleans police officer followed.
In the middle of testimony from the defense’s third witness — David Olasky, a private investigator who spoke with witnesses to the shooting in the days afterward — a prosecutor rushed in with the grand jury indictment.
The prosecution asked the magistrate to end the hearing. Fuller wanted it to continue so Olasky could finish testifying about a person who claimed to witness a former New Orleans police officer named William Ceravolo taking a firearm out of Smith’s Mercedes SUV. Ceravaolo had dined with Smith earlier in the evening.
Fuller has alluded to evidence tampering before but hadn’t disclosed what the witness had described to his team’s investigator.
Police have said they found three guns in the vehicles involved, including one in Smith’s SUV. They have never said where in Smith’s truck a gun was found.
Tanya Picou Faia, an attorney for Ceravolo, said he was more than a mile away, at the Windsor Court Hotel, when the shooting took place.
“I have requested that video footage,” she told CNN.
After court, Fuller expressed his dismay at a news conference, telling reporters he had never seen in almost 15 years of being an attorney an indictment handed up in the middle of a preliminary hearing.
Fuller also complained about the indictment process.
“My client has been indicted without an autopsy report, without a ballistic report, without a finalized police report,” he said at a news conference after the court hearings.
Peter Thomson, an attorney for Racquel Smith, said the family is pleased about the indictment.
“We feel that this a step in the right direction toward justice in this case.”
One more courtroom
Hayes finished the day in district court, pleading not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, aggravated criminal damage and aggravated criminal assault with a firearm.
That came after the judge for the preliminary hearing sent the case up one floor at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to Judge Camille Buras’ court.
She upped Hayes’ bail from $1 million, adding another $750,000.
Buras ordered the prosecution to turn over its evidence and witness lists to the defense by May 17. The next hearing in the case will be June 3.
Smith was killed April 9, shot eight times. He was hit seven times in the back. Racquel Smith was shot twice.
Hayes’ attorneys say he was not the aggressor, but rather a victim of a hit-and-run the night Smith was shot.
Police say the two men exchanged words, after which shots were fired.
Thomson said Thursday that Racquel Smith had been released from a hospital, but still needs to use a wheelchair.