New Orleans Saints fans pay homage to Will Smith at visitation

METAIRIE, La. -- Wearing black and gold jerseys and bowing their heads, fans of slain former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith paid homage to the star on Friday, almost a week after he was shot and killed during a traffic dispute.

Hundreds of fans, friends and members of the Saints team streamed into a visitation at the Saints' practice facility at a suburb of New Orleans.

Smith, 34, was shot and killed by 28-year-old Cardell Hayes last Saturday, police said. Smith was shot seven times in the back and once along his side, the coroner said. His wife, Racquel, was shot twice in the legs but survived. In a wheelchair and wearing sunglasses, she attended the visitation but did not talk to reporters.

Hayes' lawyer has said his client was not the aggressor and that he'll be vindicated when the true story is known. An attorney for Smith has described Hayes as "enraged" at the time of the shooting and portrayed the Smiths as the victims. Hayes was arrested and is currently being held on $1 million bond.

Smith is a much-beloved member of the Saints organization. He played for the team during its tumultuous post-Katrina season in 2005 when they traveled like nomads from stadium to stadium as the Superdome was repaired. Then in 2009, he was defensive captain on a team that went all the way to the Superbowl and won. He and his wife Racquel stayed in the area after he retired, and he remained active with various charities he's supported in the community.

There was no ceremony or speeches as fans filed through the practice field, past photos of Smith. They stood in front of his silver casket which was covered with a bouquet of white orchids. Behind the casket were three large photos of Smith playing football. On either side, large video screens showed video snippets and photos of Smith on and off the field.

Many fans lingered in front of the casket. Others kneeled down in prayer or bowed their heads in respect for a few minutes of silence.

Guests signed a book and prayer cards and could make donations to Smith's "Where There's A Will, There's a Way Foundation."

A private family burial and funeral service is scheduled for Saturday.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for Hayes, John Fuller, wrote a letter to New Orleans police, demanding they recuse themselves from investigating the shooting.

In a letter delivered Friday to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and police Superintendent Michael Harrison, Fuller charged that the investigation should be handed over to state police or the FBI due "to a grave lack of faith in the honesty and competency" of the department's investigation.

In a statement, police spokesman Tyler Gamble said the homicide was getting a "fair, thorough and complete" investigation and that they would "follow the facts wherever they take us."

Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press

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