Washington: After serving nearly two decades in prison, former National Football League wide receiver Rae Carruth was released on Monday from the North Carolina facility that has been his home since he was convicted on charges of planning the murder of Cherica Adams, the mother of his unborn child.
The 44-year-old former Carolina Panthers first-round pick who walked out of the Sampson County Correction Facility feels "great remorse" for his role in the drive-by shooting in November 1999 that left Adams, who was seven months pregnant, dying and their son suffering from cerebral palsy as a result of being oxygen deprived.
"I'm excited about just being out of here," Carruth told CNN affiliate WSOC days before his release.
"I'm nervous just about how I'll be received by the public. 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."
His lawyer, David Rudolf, told WRAL, that, "at the time, Rae was hanging out with people he should not have been hanging out with". He was referring, among others, to Van Brett Watkins, who was convicted of second-degree murder and testified against the former NFL player.
Carruth, whom prosecutors argued had hired Watkins to kill Adams because he didn't want to pay child support, was found guilty in January 2001 of conspiracy to commit murder, using an instrument with intent to destroy an unborn child and discharging a firearm into occupied property.
Jurors found Carruth not guilty of first-degree murder, but later said they would have convicted Carruth on a second-degree charge, had that been brought against him instead. Finding him not guilty of first-degree murder meant that the death penalty was off the table and paved the way for his 18-to-24-year sentence.
Watkins will be in prison until at least 2046 and he told a Charlotte Observer reporter that he had previously committed four murders in other cities but didn't disclose specifics.
Michael Kennedy, who obtained the gun that was used and drove the car in the drive-by, testified against Carruth and was released in 2011. Stanley Abraham, who was a passenger in the drive-by car, served less than two years and was released in 2001.
On the night of the shooting, Carruth and Adams had gone to see the movie The Bone Collector, taking separate cars to the theatre. Afterward, with Adams following him, Carruth pulled over and Adams drove up next to him. The car bearing Watkins pulled up next to Adams and bullets were fired as Carruth sped away from the scene.
He went to the home of Hannibal Navies, a Panthers teammate, and played video games there. Adams, who delivered her son immediately, lived for about a month after the shooting and it was her powerful 911 call, in which she named Carruth as being involved, that helped lead to his conviction.
Carruth still claims he wasn't intending to have Adams killed, but acknowledges a responsibility for what happened. "What he says is, 'It was my fault. I wasn't trying to get her killed, but I'm responsible for that in a moral sense,' and he feels great remorse," Rudolf said.
His lawyer hopes that Carruth, who has a now-adult son from a prior relationship, can reach "some sort of reconciliation" with Adams' son, Chancellor, and Saundra Adams, the grandmother who has raised him. Now middle-aged, Carruth earned a barber's certificate while in prison and has said he plans to return to his home state of California upon his release.
"He's matured," Rudolf said. "He's a lot more introspective than he used to be, and I think he wants to get out of North Carolina."
Thoughts of reconciliation
Last February, Carruth wrote an open letter to Saundra Adams, apologising for the death of Cherica Adams and the difficulties Chancellor Adams has had.
"If I could change anything, I'd change the whole situation," Carruth wrote in the letter, obtained by WBTV. "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."
Although Carruth wrote of wanting to raise his son, he soon changed his tune in according to the Charlotte Observer.
"For all involved or invested in this ordeal, please calm down," Carruth wrote to the newspaper. "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."
Money long gone
While in jail Carruth worked as a barber, making about $1 per hour, according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman Jerry Higgins.
That's a far cry from the four-year, $US3.7 million contract Carruth signed with the Panthers after being drafted – although he never collected all of that money since he was released in the third year of his deal.
Carruth's future is uncertain.
He was taken to an undisclosed location after his release.
He will be on a nine-month post-release program, according to Higgins. He would need special permission from a case officer to leave the state or the country during that span, but is free to go wherever he pleases after nine months.
The Washington Post, with AP