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If roles reversed in Will Smith shooting, would NFL star face same charges? Sports Illustrated asks

New Orleans Police investigate the scene where former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith was shot to death in a Mercedes SUV on Camp Street in the lower Garden District on Saturday night, April 9, 2016. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Sports Illustrated is the latest national outlet to examine the lives of Cardell Hayes and former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith and to breakdown the men's April 9 encounter in the Lower Garden District that ended in the NFL star's death. 
The article, the first in a new series called "True Crime" by SIconcludes that even if many unanswered questions are resolved at the Dec. 1 trial, some questions will remain.
"Would Hayes have been charged with something less than murder had the man he shot not been a prominent athlete and a local hero? Had the roles been reversed, what charges would Smith have faced?" the article poses. 
New Orleans police say the shooting happened after a vehicle crash on Sophie Wright Place at Felicity Street. Hayes was driving the Hummer H2 that rear-ended Smith's Mercedes SUV. An argument ensued, and then came the gunfire. 
Hayes, 29, has remained jailed on a $1.75 million bond. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a firearm and aggravated criminal damage to property in connection with the incident. 
Hayes' attorney John Fuller has not denied Hayes fired the fatal shots but has said his client was "not the aggressor" and is "legally not guilty." Peter Thomson, an attorney for the Smith family, has called the shooting "cold-blooded murder."  Smith was shot eight times, including seven times in the back. Smith's wife, Racquel Smith, who Hayes is charged with attempting to murder, was wounded in both legs.

 In the SI article, Hayes' passenger in the Hummer and longtime friend Kevin O'Neal echoed Fuller's previous claims that Hayes pursued Smith's Mercedes after an alleged hit-and-run perpetrated by Smith, 34, in order to get a license plate number when the crash on Sophie Wright Place occurred. 
O'Neal is quoted as saying of the shooting, "Cardell stood his ground like you're supposed to be able to." The article notes Louisiana has a "strong" stand-your-ground laws that justifies shooting someone if the shooter is in fear of his or her life. 
Titled "The Saint vs. the thug," the article includes interviews with those who know Hayes well and portray him not as a thug — a label for Hayes the article attributes to online commenters — but as "a giant teddy bear," or "a gentle giant." The article includes photos of Hayes with his young son, C.J., as well as photos of him volunteer coaching for a peewee football team, the Pontchartrain Park Patriots. 
One of Hayes' friends, Anthony Williams, who was with Hayes at a barber shop hours before the shooting, told the SI reporter, "We're from New Orleans. We know all kinds of guys—guys who, if we'd heard that they shot Will Smith the way the police say it happened, we'd have believed it in a second and said, 'That's just their M.O.' But not Bear." 
The article says Williams is the cousin of Daryle Holloway, the NOPD officer who police say was killed by suspect Travis Boys while Holloway was transporting him. Williams showed the reporter a tattoo on his neck of Holloway's badge number, "1708," and told him he knows there are criminals in New Orleans and, "We don't stand for that. But we also want police to do right."
The article cites a family friend of Will Smith's saying he was "the rock of the family," and lists the charities he was involved in. It also notes previously reported accounts of Smith's 2010 domestic violence arrest in Lafayette and cites managers of New Orleans nightclubs he used to visit. 
O'Neal makes a previously unreported claim in the article that Smith's former Saints teammate Pierre Thomas was at the scene at the time of the shooting. Thomas posted on social media days after his teammate's death that he "witnessed a close friend...shot to death," though it has been unclear if he was actually at the scene when shots were fired. 
O'Neal also claims in the SI article Billy Ceravolo, the former NOPD officer who dined with Smith the night of the shooting, was at the scene as shots were fired — a claim previously disputed by Ceravolo's attorney. The former officer's attorney Tanya Picou Faia said in May her client was arriving at the Windsor Court, where he planned to meet Smith and others at the Polo Lounge inside the hotel, when he got a call saying Smith had been killed. 
In response to last week's GQ article about the shooting death, the Smith family said in a statement sent by spokeswoman Lauren Renschler the family did not think it appropriate to comment on facts of the pending criminal case. The statement says, regarding that article, which also cited O'Neal's account, that the family is not focused on "responding to false statements circulated as 'fact' in the media."
The SI article notes, as other national outlets have, that Will Smith's status as an ex-Saints player made his murder stand out in a violent city where people are shot or killed on a daily basis. It notes Smith's death marked the 32nd homicide of 2016, and "there have been 100 more since."