Former New England Patriot star Aaron Hernandez and former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth have two of the most gruesomely recognizable names in NFL history, because they both were sentenced to lengthy prison terms as convicted killers.
Hernandez will never serve another day in prison. At age 27, he committed suicide Wednesday morning by hanging himself with a bed sheet in his prison cell in Massachusetts.
Carruth, on the other hand, was convicted in 2001 in a jury trial in Charlotte of conspiracy to commit murder. He has served more than 90 percent of his sentence.
There are a number of similarities in the cases but one big difference: Hernandez was never going to leave prison alive. But Carruth, who is 43, is scheduled to be released from a North Carolina prison on Oct. 22, 2018.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the cases of Hernandez and Carruth.
Hernandez was convicted in 2015 of first-degree murder in the killing of Odin Lloyd, who was the boyfriend of his fiancee’s sister and had once been a friend of Hernandez.
Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for that crime. He was 23 at the time and did not testify in the trial that put him behind bars for life.
Carruth was convicted in 2001 in a murder conspiracy he masterminded to kill Cherica Adams, his pregnant, on-and-off girlfriend. The motive: He did not want to pay child support. He hired a hit man named Van Brett Watkins to commit the actual murder.
Watkins, who implicated Carruth in his testimony, received a prison sentence of at least 40 years. Carruth was not convicted of first-degree murder, as Hernandez was, which is why he was not sentenced to life in prison.
Carruth was 27 when he was sentenced. He did not testify in his trial, either.
Hernandez is survived by a 4-year-old daughter named Avielle Janelle Hernandez. She came to court this month with her mother to see her father, who was being tried (and ultimately acquitted) in a double murder unrelated to his killing of Lloyd.
Hernandez blew his daughter kisses during his court appearance. Avielle got teary-eyed because she couldn’t go to him.
Carruth already had fathered another child by the time he got to Charlotte – born while he was still in college at Colorado. This was part of the reason he did not want to pay additional child support to Cherica Adams, who wanted to keep the baby. The four bullets that struck and ultimately killed Adams in a south Charlotte drive-by shooting also severely damaged her unborn baby.
That baby is now 17, and his name is Chancellor Lee Adams. He is a remarkable young man who has cerebral palsy and brain damage owing to those bullets directed at his mother. Chancellor Lee also has made extensive progress in physical therapy and has one of the broadest, most genuine smiles you will ever see. Chancellor Lee has been raised in Charlotte by his grandmother, Saundra Adams, who he refers to as “G-mom.” Saundra Adams long ago chose to forgive all those involved in her daughter’s murder.
Carruth has been completely uninvolved with his son’s life and has only seen Chancellor Lee twice in his life, and not at all in the past 15 years.
While the other three men involved in the murder conspiracy have contacted Adams and apologized for their role in it, Carruth never has apologized to Cherica’s mother and has never publicly admitted he has done anything wrong. He has declined my repeated interview requests as I have followed this story over the past two decades. Carruth has not granted any sort of interview request since 2001, and in that interview he denied any involvement in the shooting.
Saundra Adams told me last year in an interview that she and Chancellor Lee plan to be at the prison gates when Carruth is released in 2018.
“I would like Chancellor and I to be there so he could officially meet his son,” she told me. “Even if it's for a few minutes -- just have an embrace with his son. Maybe I can just talk to him and tell him some important things about what his son is doing, and where he is in life.”
Their NFL careers
Carruth was the higher draft pick – the Panthers took him in the first round in 1997 with the pick they regret more than any other in team history. New England picked Hernandez in the fourth round in 2010 out of Florida, where he had teamed with quarterback Tim Tebow.
Carruth and Hernandez played three seasons in the NFL before they wrecked their careers and the lives of many others with their involvement in murders.
Hernandez was the better player of the two. He was a fearsome tight end who teamed with Rob Gronkowski – also drafted in 2010 -- to give the Patriots what was widely considered the best tight end duo in the NFL in 2011. He had 175 catches for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns in his three seasons and scored in the Super Bowl. Hernandez was impressive enough that the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick rewarded him with a $40-million contract extension in 2012 (Hernandez never saw most of the money due to his conviction).
Carruth was a speedy wide receiver out of the University of Colorado who was injury-plagued after his first season. He had 62 catches for 804 yards and four touchowns in his three seasons with Carolina. (The Panthers have never contacted Adams in any official capacity after their former player was convicted of the murder conspiracy 16 years ago, but Chancellor Lee remains a Panthers fan).
Their time in prison
Carruth’s prison term has been unremarkable. He has become a prison barber, cutting the hair of other inmates. He once made $40,000 per game with the Panthers. Now he makes one dollar a day in prison and has mostly stayed out of trouble while incarcerated.
Carruth has had four minor infractions in prison, but the last came in 2004. He is imprisoned in the eastern part of North Carolina at a minimum-security prison in Columbia, N.C., 323 miles from Charlotte. With most of his extended family in California, it would seem somewhat likely that California is where Carruth will end up once he is released from prison.
Hernandez was recently acquitted in an unrelated double murder committed in 2012, which resulted in him being in the news earlier this month. He did not testify in that trial, either. Although acquitted, his “life without parole” sentence for the Lloyd killing meant that Hernandez was immediately returned to prison after the trial.
Hernandez hanged himself Wednesday in Massachusetts, on the same day that his former team was scheduled to go to the White House to celebrate its most recent Super Bowl win. So far, authorities have not found a suicide note.
Carruth gets out of prison in 18 months.