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Will Smith memorial: Saints to say goodbye to ex-NFL player shot dead

Posted at 11:41 AM, Apr 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-15 11:41:22-04

NEW ORLEANS — Will Smith was loved.

That much has been made clear over ever since news got out that the former NFL defensive end had been shot dead Saturday night during a traffic altercation on a New Orleans street. Online and at a makeshift memorial set up at the shooting scene, people have offered their tributes to someone they described as not only a good football player, but a good man.

On Friday, they will be able to say their goodbyes in person.

The New Orleans Saints will host of visitation service between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (3 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET) at the team’s indoor facility in Metairie, Louisiana.

This event will be followed in distinct New Orleans fashion by a parade Friday evening through the Lower Garden District, the same neighborhood where Smith was killed.

One woman on Twitter — using the handle “Die Hard Saints Fan” — said she and her child would wear custom-made T-shirts in Smith’s honor for the parade.

“#longlive91,” she added, referencing Smith’s uniform number for the Saints.

He will be buried, in a private ceremony for family and loved ones, on Saturday.

Lawyer: Suspect idolized Smith

Smith was killed after a night out with his wife and friends in New Orleans. He was shot eight times, including seven in the back, the coroner said.

Cardell Hayes, who has been charged with second-degree murder, did not know who the victim was until the next day, according to a defense attorney.

When he found out Sunday morning, he collapsed in the chair, attorney John Fuller said. Hayes was a fan of Smith, he said, and wanted to be like him.

“To be accused of murdering one of your idols is earth shattering,” Fuller said.

Hayes shot Smith after a traffic collision and an exchange of words between the two, according to police.

Lawyers spar over weapons

As New Orleans police investigate the shooting, attorneys on both sides are sparring over the discovery of a gun in Smith’s car.

Detectives found a loaded 9mm handgun inside Smith’s Mercedes SUV on Tuesday morning. Investigators also found a loaded revolver inside the Hummer H2 driven by Hayes.

Police have said a .45-caliber handgun they found at the scene Saturday night was used by Hayes to shoot Smith and his wife. That brought the total number of weapons in the investigation to three.

Peter Thomson, an attorney for Smith’s family, said the former NFL player did not have a gun in his hand when he was killed.

“At no time during this event, to my knowledge at all, did Will Smith ever brandish or carry on his person a firearm,” Thomson said.

Smith was licensed to carry a concealed weapon that may have been inside the vehicle, Thomson said, but he wasn’t reaching for it when he was shot.

Smith’s wife, Racquel, was shot once in each leg and is recovering in a hospital, Thomson said.

More details emerge

Defense attorney Fuller has repeatedly said Hayes is “legally not guilty.”

At least one witness saw a gun in Smith’s possession, Fuller alleged.

He questioned why police initially recovered one weapon from the scene, then found two additional weapons inside vehicles involved days later.

“I just find it odd that a homicide where a man lost his life, a man who left three children behind, that a gun supposedly isn’t recovered until days after the incident,” he said.

Police offered an explanation for why the two additional weapons were not found until Tuesday.

“It takes time to process evidence and these types of inventories are done in a very methodical way,” spokesman Tyler Gamble said in an email. “Homicide detectives, along with trained crime lab technicians and members of the traffic fatality unit processed vehicles yesterday and that’s when the additional weapons were found and documented.”

Lawyer: Witness fears for her life

An unidentified witness is alleging she saw something “untoward” happen at the crime scene, according to Fuller. He said the witness arrived “seconds or minutes after the shooting.” But he refused to go into details about what she saw, saying she fears for her life.

There may be a video of what happened just before the shooting, according to Fuller.

“We have reason to believe that a bystander recorded the events immediately prior to gunshots being fired, and that that footage was turned over to New Orleans police on the night that Mr. Smith died,” Fuller said. “We want that video, because I know what it’s going to show. And it’s going to show that my client is legally not guilty.”

Fuller said the case against his client “is the ultimate example of a person being prejudged.”

Gamble said he couldn’t confirm whether there was a video showing the moments before the shooting, but investigators have canvassed the area for surveillance video.

“We can’t get into specifics,” the police spokesman said. “We are still building an investigation.”

Smith shot 8 times

As authorities remain tight-lipped on investigation details, the coroner has released preliminary findings.

Smith was shot eight times, according to the Orleans Parish coroner. Seven of the wounds were in his back and one was in his left side, the report said. Several bullets penetrated vital organs, including his heart and lungs, coroner Jeffrey Rouse said.

A toxicology analysis is being done, but results won’t be available for six to eight weeks.