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Story highlights

NEW: Suspect's attorney suggests someone else at the scene may have had a gun

Suspect Cardell Hayes called 911, secured a witness, waited on police, his attorney says

Hayes is charged with murder, accused of shooting Will Smith after a traffic altercation

(CNN) —  

Cardell Hayes did not know former New Orleans Saint Will Smith, and he was not the aggressor in the quarrel that ended with Smith dead in the street and Hayes charged with murder, an attorney for Hayes told reporters.

Hayes was the victim of a hit-and-run before his altercation with Smith, lawyer John Fuller said in remarks aired by CNN affiliate WDSU. The person who hit him sped off, and Hayes was trying to make out the license plate of the vehicle before he became involved in the deadly situation with the former NFL star.

According to police, Smith and his wife were in a Mercedes G63 SUV late Saturday when Hayes rear-ended them in his Hummer H2, causing the Benz to hit a Chevrolet Impala carrying some of Smith’s acquaintances.

Smith and Hayes “exchanged words” before Hayes shot the former New Orleans Saints defensive captain multiple times and shot Smith’s wife in the right leg, police said. Hayes now stands charged with second-degree murder.

But questions about the high-profile case seem to be growing as quickly as the makeshift memorial near the crash site, where grieving fans of the former NFL player are leaving helmets, jerseys and signs.

Attorney: Hayes ‘a lot nicer than he appears’

Fuller says his client’s actions tell a story that’s different from the police account of what happened that night. Hayes called 911 before the shooting, secured a witness who was leaving the scene, and remained at the scene after the shooting until authorities arrived, Fuller said. Police have said they took 4 minutes to reach the scene.

“Now, tell me if that’s the behavior that’s consistent with someone who’s an animal out here looking for blood,” he said. “His actions are totally consistent with someone that is complying with a police investigation.”

Fuller further described Hayes as soft-spoken, easily approachable and “a lot nicer than he appears.”

Dispatch audio from Saturday night shows that police and paramedics were dispatched to the scene after someone called 911 to report “there’s a male down with about six gun wounds to the chest.”

The dispatcher asks for a description of the shooter, and a responding officer says he thinks the shooter is on the scene and the gun has been recovered. The officer later reports that two black males are in custody, with the firearm.

Cardell Hayes is charged with second-degree murder, police say.
Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office
Cardell Hayes is charged with second-degree murder, police say.

Though he didn’t provide some details about his client’s actions – he either couldn’t or wouldn’t say whether Hayes accuses Smith of committing the hit-and-run – Fuller said the narrative that police have provided the media is not accurate.

“Whether the victim is famous, infamous, popular, unpopular, black, white, Catholic, Baptists, 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.”

Will Smith won Super Bowl, BCS championship

If toxicology tests are conducted “honestly,” Fuller said, they will “absolutely” play a key factor in his client’s case. He did not elaborate. Police have said toxicology reports won’t come back for six weeks.

Fuller also suggested someone else at the scene may have been armed.

“Based on information that I have received today via a video from that night, we have reason to believe that there may have been a second gun on the scene, and there definitely were allusions to a second gun,” he told reporters.

A video obtained by CNN of the scene after the crash includes a witness account saying someone else at the scene claimed to have a gun before the shooting.

Police have said they recovered one weapon from the scene.

A night out in New Orleans

Smith was at the French Quarter Fest earlier in the day before having dinner at the Sake Cafe with his wife, a former teammate, a former New Orleans police officer and a sports agent, restaurant general manager Dave Matherne said. They left the restaurant around 11:15 p.m., he said.

“You could hear them laughing at the table,” Matherne said. “It seemed they were having a really good time.”

In the strangest of twists – and one that police say they are considering in their investigation – the ex-police officer who was at Sake Cafe, Billy Ceravolo, was named in a lawsuit that Hayes filed a decade ago after officers with the New Orleans Police Department killed his father.

Ceravolo, who was not accused of shooting Hayes’ dad, responded in court that Anthony Hayes tried to stab him and he feared for his life, as did other officers, who opened fire. The case was settled in 2011 for an undisclosed sum.

Read the complaint

Fuller brushed it off as coincidence and questioned how Hayes could have possibly known Smith had been at dinner with Ceravolo. New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison, too, said there’s no indication that any of this played a factor in Saturday’s shooting, though investigators are working to make sure that’s the case.

Hayes is being held in New Orleans Central Lockup on a $1 million bond, according to police and jail records.

Hayes a football player, too

Saturday was not Hayes’ first run-in with the law. He was arrested in 2010 for codeine possession, illegally carrying a gun and possession of drug paraphernalia.