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American football player Will Smith was brutally shot 'eight times in the back'

Shot dead: Will Smith
Shot dead: Will Smith

Former American footballer Will Smith was shot multiple times in the back after a traffic altercation, the family's lawyer said.

But the New Orleans Saints star never pulled out his own handgun as he tried to protect his wife, Peter Thomson said. Throughout the confrontation, he said Smith's legal 9mm handgun remained loaded but unused in a compartment inside his car.

A lawyer for Hummer driver Cardell Hayes, who is in prison on a one million dollar bond (€886,000) after being arrested by New Orleans police on a murder charge, said his client felt threatened during the Saturday night incident and was not the aggressor.

But Mr Thomson called this a lie and a distortion, and said the real victims were Smith and his wife Racquel, who ended up in hospital with bullet wounds in both legs.

"Suddenly this Hummer drove up at great speed behind them and rammed into them violently, causing their back windshield to shatter, their heads to whip back, and their car to hit the Chevy Impala in front of them," said Mr Thomson, who described the ramming of the car as aggravated battery.

Hayes and his passenger then got out and angrily approached Smith, who asked why they were attacking him, Mr Thomson said.

"The driver, who I understand is the killer in this case, is enraged," Mr Thomson said.

Smith's wife and another female passenger in their car got out to defuse the situation, and walked Smith back to his car, "but the killer follows," he said.

"Suddenly, two shots are fired. She is shot immediately in both legs and she collapses. Either immediately or moments thereafter, the killer unloads six to eight shots into Will's back," Mr Thomson said.

"I can tell you the killer showed no remorse whatsoever, and actually stood over Will Smith's dead body as his wife crawled away," he added.

Mr Thomson said Hayes shot Smith eight times in the back. The coroner's report, released on Wednesday, clarified that seven of the bullets hit his back and one the left side of his chest.

Police confirmed that a 9mm handgun, loaded but unfired, was found inside Smith's SUV. Police also said that Hayes acknowledged at the scene that he fired his 45-calibre handgun at Smith and his wife; and that police also found a second loaded but unfired gun - a revolver - inside Hayes' Hummer.

"During the argument, Hayes produced a 45-calibre handgun and opened fire, striking Smith and his wife. No one else was injured in the gunfire," a police statement said. "An additional charge for Smith's wife's injury is pending further investigation."

Mr Thomson read a brief statement from Mrs Smith.

"She considered him her Superman, and that night, as he always does, (he) was protecting her," Mr Thomson said.

The deadly confrontation was precipitated by an earlier encounter, which Hayes' lawyer described as a "hit and run".

Mr Thomson rebutted that, saying the Hummer had stopped suddenly, causing Smith to brake quickly, but that any contact between them was nothing more than a slight bump.

"The consensus in the car was, 'we didn't hit this vehicle, there's no damage, it's late at night,' so out of concern for their safety and because they don't know why this Hummer had stopped so suddenly, and seeing no damage whatsoever, they continued," Mr Thomson said.

"There is nothing, nothing, Will Smith could have ever said" to justify the shooting, Mr Thomson concluded.

Lawyer John Fuller has insisted that Hayes, 28, will be vindicated once the full story emerges. He said Hayes had responsibly called 911 and was following the vehicle that hit him to read the number plate number moments before the fatal confrontation.

A public visitation will be held on Friday to honour Smith and a private funeral and burial will be held on Saturday.

Smith came to New Orleans from Ohio State and quickly became a team leader. After retirement, he chose to stay in his adopted community, showing his commitment to the city as it recovered from Hurricane Katrina and supporting a foundation that helped women and children.

Later Smith's father said he forgives the man accused of gunning down his son.

Will Smith Sr told WTVD in Durham, North Carolina, that nothing that happens in the court system will bring his son back.