Man gets 25-year sentence in shooting death of ex-NFL player

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NEW ORLEANS, April 20 (Reuters) - Cardell Hayes, the 29-year-old tow truck driver convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of retired NFL player Will Smith, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, a Louisiana judge ruled on Thursday.

Smith was killed following a vehicle collision last April in New Orleans.

Hayes was facing as much as a 60-year sentence for the shooting death of Smith, a former defensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints, and for injuring Smith's wife, Racquel Smith, who was shot in the leg.

Prosecutors, who had initially charged Hayes with second-degree murder, were "very disappointed" in not attaining the stiffer sentencing, said a spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

14 PHOTOS
Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith throughout his career
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Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith throughout his career
METAIRE, LA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Will Smith of the New Orleans Saints poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Metairie, Louisiana. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 16: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints anticipates a play during a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 16, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints won 28-20. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 25: Ben Tate #44 of the Houston Texans rushes past Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints at Reliant Stadium on August 25, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 16: Matt Flynn #15 of the Oakland Raiders is sacked by Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints during a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 16, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
METAIRIE, LA - MAY 23: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints participates in drills during organized team activities, OTA's, at the Saints training facility on May 23, 2013 in Metairie, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 09: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints walks off the field after a play against the Washington Redskins at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 17: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 17, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 25: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 25, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
METAIRIE, LA - MAY 24: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints stretches during OTA's at the Saints Training Facility on May 24, 2012 in Metairie, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 26: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints walks to the sidelines during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 26, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Falcons 45-16. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 23: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints stands on the sideline during a game against the Indianapolis Colts being held at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 23, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Colts 62-7. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 08: Will Smith #91 and Jonathan Vilma #51 of the New Orleans Saints take the field against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on January 8, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 26: Will Smith talks with members of the media after the New England Patriots Training Camp. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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Orleans Parish Judge Camille Buras called the case "sad and tragic" and noted that three children lost their father.

In December, an Orleans Parish jury found Hayes guilty on charges of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in the April 9, 2016 shooting.

Buras sentenced Hayes to serve 25 years for manslaughter and 15 years for attempted manslaughter, to run concurrently, and without the possibility of probation or parole.

Smith, who was 34 and had retired from the National Football League in 2014, was shot eight times. His body was found slumped over the steering wheel of his Mercedes SUV. His wife Racquel was also shot, but survived.

Authorities said the incident happened as Smith and his wife were returning from dinner in the city's Lower Garden District about 11:30 p.m.

LOUSIANA-WILLSMITH/(Cardell Hayes via Reuters)

Surveillance footage from the scene appeared to show Smith's Mercedes SUV bump the rear of Hayes' Hummer before speeding off. Moments later, according to authorities, Hayes' Hummer hit the rear of Smith's vehicle, causing it to crash into a third car.

The shootings followed a heated argument between the men.

Thursday's proceedings marked the end of a dramatic two-day pre-sentencing hearing, which included a last-ditch effort from Hayes' defense team for a new trial, and emotional testimony from a parade of witnesses for both sides, including Smith's wife, New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton, Hayes, and Hayes' mother.

Racquel Smith testified on Wednesday and locked eyes with the man who shot and killed her husband.

During his testimony Thursday morning, Hayes wept and reiterated the argument made at trial that he was acting in self-defense when he shot Smith.

(Reporting by Helen Freund in New Orleans; Editing by David Gregorio)

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