Will Smith memorial: Saints, family say goodbye to ex-NFL player

Story highlights

  • Lawyer for suspect Cardell Hayes writes letter demanding police recuse themselves from investigation
  • Will Smith's widow and her children stayed at visitation for hours, surrounded by his former teammates and friends
  • Hayes intends to subpoena Pierre Thomas and Billy Ceravolo, who'd been with Smith, source says

New Orleans (CNN)Will Smith was much loved.

That has been clear 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.
    On Friday, hundreds of friends, former teammates and family members went to pay their respects to the New Orleans Saints hero who was just 34 when he was killed.
    New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, right, stands in front of Will Smith's casket.
    Racquel Smith, who was shot in each leg in the incident that took her husband's life, came to a visitation held at the Saints practice facility in a wheelchair. Dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt and wearing sunglasses, Racquel Smith brought the couple's three children. She stayed for several hours, always surrounded by his former teammates and coaches.
    Smith's closed casket was on the 50-yard line. On each side, there was a monitor showing clips of his playing days. After the family paid its respects, the public was allowed in. The first man in line stopped in front of the casket, covered with yellow flowers, and with a trumpet played "When the Saints Go Marching In."
    Many former and current NFL players attended the visitation. Among them were former Saints Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, Jonathan Vilma and Steve Gleason.
    The presence and good energy of Gleason and his wife, Michel, lifted the hearts of others at Smith's ceremony. Gleason -- who has ALS -- smiled, reminisced and communicated with former teammates by using the eye-tracking software on the computer mounted in front of him on his wheelchair.
    Also there was Washington Redskins running back Pierre Thomas, who was at the scene when Smith was shot. Thomas had briefly gone home to Chicago to get away from the heartache New Orleans brought, but he said coming back and being with teammates from the time he played for the Saints was bringing him strength.
    Racquel Smith talks to former Saints running back Pierre Thomas at the visitation.
    Saints Head Coach Sean Payton comforted players with hugs. Some were crying, including a former Ohio State teammate of Smith's, Ira Guilford, who came from New Jersey. Guilford had just agreed to help train Smith's cousin and got emotional when talking about how he wants to be a positive influence for the young man in the wake of Smith's death.
    Payton also wanted to get Will Smith's children away from the ceremony for a bit to see the facilities. There were too many sad faces.
    He wanted them to see what one of their dad's days would have been like as a Saints player. He corralled Smith's three children and four others kids, all under age 10.
    They lit up when he started escorting them toward the weight room and several started to run. He eventually showed them where Smith's locker was and took them to see the meeting rooms.
    The visitation was followed in distinct New Orleans fashion by a second line parade Friday evening through the Lower Garden District, the same neighborhood where Smith was killed.
    He will be buried Saturday at a private ceremony for family and loved ones.

    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 a 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 9 mm pistol 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 pistol 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.
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    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.

    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.
    Cardell Hayes is charged with second-degree murder.
    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."
    In an extraordinary step on Friday, Fuller sent the mayor and police superintendent copies of a letter calling for New Orleans Police to turn the case over to another agency.
    Fuller wrote he has a "grave lack of faith in the honesty and competency in the investigation."
    He added: "This lack of faith, in part, stems from factual misstatements from high-ranking members of the police department."

    Lawyer: Witness fears for her life

    An unidentified witness says 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.
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    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."
    Hayes intends to subpoena two men who were with Smith that night -- Billy Ceravolo, a former New Orleans police captain, and Thomas, Smith's ex-teammate, for a preliminary hearing, a source close to the defendant's legal team said.
    The same source also said that Hayes is being kept in his cell 23 hours a day.
    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 eight 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.