In 2001, Rae Carruth went to prison, convicted for conspiracy to murder his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams.
Monday he walked free, having completed his sentence. At 8:02 a.m. ET, Carruth, the former Carolina Panthers wide receiver, walked out of Sampson Correctional Institution, got in a white Chevy Tahoe and drove away without speaking to an assembly of reporters outside the facility.
“I’m excited about just being out of here. I’m nervous just about how I’ll be received by the public,” Carruth said in a phone interview with WSOC-TV on Sunday. “I still have to work. I still have to live. I have to exist out there and it just seems like there is so much hate and negativity toward me. I’m actually somewhat frightened.”
Whether he will seek a relationship with his son, who was born with brain damage after being removed from his dying mother’s womb, is unclear.
Carruth’s son born with cerebral palsy
Chancellor Lee Adams, now 18, was born with cerebral palsy after Carruth’s accomplices shot his 24-year-old mother in her BMW while she was eight months pregnant in Charlotte, North Carolina. He requires a caregiver.
Adams said in a Nov. 16, 1999, 911 call that Carruth, then a third-year wide receiver with the Carolina Panthers, stopped his car in front of her as she was following him from a movie date. That’s when three accomplices of Carruth’s pulled up and shot her through the driver’s side window of her car, according to her account.
Adams survived long enough to have a C-section to save her son, but died four weeks later from her injuries. She was 24.
Carruth jumped bail, hid trunk of a car
Carruth was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder after the shooting. When Adams died, he jumped bail and fled. FBI agents found him hiding in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of a Tennessee Best Western motel.
Carruth was eventually convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied dwelling and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child. He was sentenced to 18-to-24 years in prison. He escaped a first-degree murder conviction, which could have carried the death penalty.
Now 44, Carruth is a free man.
Carruth wanted custody of his son after prison release
Carruth reached out publicly during his final months in prison, wavering on his desire to have a relationship with his son and confronting Chancellor’s caretaker Saundra Adams, Cherica’s mother.
He broke a 17-year silence in February in an interview with Charlotte’s WBTV in a letter to Saundra Adams he gave to the TV station. He didn’t detail the specifics of the night of Cherica’s murder, but he did apologize, though he’s never done so directly for conspiring to murder Adams.
“I’m apologizing for the loss of her daughter,” Carruth told WBTV of Saundra. “I’m apologizing for the impairment of my son. I feel responsible for everything that happened. And I just want her to know that truly I am sorry for everything.
“If I could change anything, I’d change the whole situation. His mother would still be here and I wouldn’t be where I’m at. So that’s what I’d want to change. I want the incident to never have happened at all.”
His outreach wasn’t all conciliatory. Carruth’s letter lashed out at Saundra and declared his desire to “debunk the lies that Ms. Adams continues to tell about me.”
Carruth hasn’t seen son since he was a baby
Carruth met his son twice in the early years of his life — once on the night of his birth and another during a court-ordered visitation when Chancellor was around 1 year old. Carruth hasn’t seen him since, according to The Observer. But he has watched from afar via news reports and developed an attachment to his now-grown son.
He made a plea, via WBTV, for custody of the son he almost killed in the womb.
“I let him down as he came into this world, and the only way that I can make that right, and the only way I can work out my relationship with my son is to be there for him, Carruth said.”
“I should be raising my son. His mother should be raising her son. Ms. Adams should not be doing this, and I want that responsibility back. I feel like he might not ever have his mother in his life, but he could still have me, and I could still make a difference, and I don’t think that’s anyone’s responsibility when I’m still here.”
His letter echoed that plea.
“I mean come on, Ms. Adams, the reality is you aren’t going to be around forever,” Carruth wrote. “At some point, someone else will have to be responsible for Chancellor’s care. … I would like to be in a position to be seriously considered as a viable option.”
Saundra Adams: Carruth won’t get custody
Saundra, 60, told The Observer that she had forgiven Carruth and was open to him seeing his son.
She has watched Chancellor as he defied doctors’ expectations that he would never walk, graduating to a walker and eventually able to take steps on his own. She has family that she says will take over Chancellor’s care when she’s not able.
Custody for Carruth is not on the table.
“I’ve forgiven Rae already, but to have any type of relationship with him, there does have to be some repentance,” Adams said. “And I think this opens the door. But I can say definitively he’s not ever going to have custody of Chancellor. Chancellor will be raised either by me or, after I’m gone, by someone else who loves him and who knows him. He will never be raised by a stranger – someone he doesn’t know and who tried to kill him.”
Carruth’s accomplice not so forgiving
Saundra isn’t the only person not ready to give Carruth the benefit of the doubt. Carruth’s accomplices all received prison sentences for Cherica’s murder. While two of them — Michael Kennedy and Stanley Abraham — have been released, the third remains behind bars.
Van Brett Watkins admitted to firing five shots into Cherica’s car the night she was killed. He’s not scheduled to be released from prison until 2046 on a second-degree murder conviction. He sounded vindictive in a letter sent to The Observer.
“I believe the public should see what Rae Carruth ‘PAID’ me to do,” Watkins wrote. “Unlike Mrs. S. Adams … I don’t forgive Carruth. He owes me.”
Carruth has change of heart
In March, Carruth wrote another letter to Adams, this time shared with Observer columnist Scott Fowler. He’d experienced a change of heart on his desire to connect with his son.
“For all involved or invested in this ordeal, please calm down,” Carruth wrote. “I will no longer be pursuing a relationship with Chancellor and Ms. Adams. I promise to leave them be, which I now see is in everyone’s best interest.”
“I now understand that any notions of me one day being welcome to Sunday dinner is totally out of the question. And lastly, I didn’t foresee the media and general public being unanimous in its belief that I shouldn’t be allowed to ever have anything to do with Chancellor.”
What’s next for Carruth is a mystery. He’s walking into a world he won’t recognize, that’s seen more than 17 years of rapid social and technological change.
However he deals with the transition, it seems unfathomable that he would be allowed to have a relationship with Chancellor, a son he didn’t want and tried to have killed. That’s a conclusion he appears to have reached in March.
Whether he still feels that upon release and if he plans to approach his son are unknown.
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