NEW ORLEANS, La. (WDSU) – The widow of former New Orleans Saints star defensive end Will Smith told a judge Thursday she and her family have been “bullied and harassed” online by relatives of the man convicted of his 2016 death.
That conviction was thrown out after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that non-unanimous jury verdicts were unconstitutional. An Orleans Parish jury found Hayes guilty of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in a 10-2 vote, and that conviction was officially vacated in January.
Hayes and Smith were involved in a minor traffic mishap the night of April 9, 2016, in the Lower Garden District that escalated into a confrontation. Police say Hayes fatally shot Smith and wounded his wife, Racquel. Hayes has maintained that he was not the aggressor and fired in self-defense.
A hearing to set Hayes’ bond ahead of a new trial took place Thursday before Orleans Parish Judge Camille Buras, with Hayes appearing by online teleconference from Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
Hayes’ attorney, John Fuller, asked for his client’s bond to be based on manslaughter, not the second-degree murder charge from his original indictment. In 2016, Hayes’ bond was set at $1 million.
Fuller told the judge Hayes intended to live with his mother in New Orleans if he were released on bond.
First Assistant District Attorney Bob White agreed to move forward with bond based on manslaughter, holding open the possibility that a higher court could permit the new trial on the original second-degree murder indictment. White asked that home confinement and drug testing be included as conditions for Hayes’ release on bond.
Racquel Smith, who appeared before the court via Zoom, shed tears as she asked the judge to deny bond for Hayes. She said posts from the Hayes family and others on social media blame her husband for shooting her and said, “she should die.” Will Smith can’t respond to these posts “because he is six feet under,” his wife said.
“Now I have to look at this man about to walk freely,” Racquel Smith said. “He deserves the highest bond available. He deserves to be treated for murder.”
The Smiths have since moved to Texas, she said, adding that her son struggles with his father’s absence and has brought up “taking his own life.” Racquel Smith said she has struggled to learn how to walk again after suffering gunshot wounds in both legs. Hayes’ attempted manslaughter charge stems from the shooting of Racquel Smith.
White suggested the court consider social media restrictions, although no specifics were discussed among the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Buras said she would rule on the bond request on March 11 after a review of similar cases in which the eventual conviction was for a lesser charge than the original indictment.
Hayes’ case is Louisiana’s first high-profile case to be prosecuted again following the April 2020 Supreme Court decision in Ramos v. Louisiana. Justices ruled the jury’s 10-2 verdict in the murder trial of Evangalisto Ramos for the 2014 death of Trinece Fedison in Central City violated the 14th Amendment’s provision of a unanimous verdict in order to convict someone of a serious offense.
Louisiana was the second to last state to allow split jury verdicts in felony trials, a standard that dated back to the Jim Crow era. Voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2018 to require unanimous felony verdicts.
Oregon was the final state to allow split jury verdicts until the Supreme Court deemed them illegal in its Ramos decision.