Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth has broken a 17-year silence and has apologized from behind bars for his role in the death of Cherica Adams.
In a letter to and later a phone interview with Charlotte television station WBTV, Carruth said, “I take full responsibility for everything” – meaning both the death of Cherica Adams in 1999 and the fact that their son, Chancellor Lee Adams, was born with cerebral palsy as a result of his mother’s gunshot wounds.
Carruth said in the same interview that he wants to have custody of his son, who is now 18 years old, physically and mentally challenged and has been raised by his maternal grandmother from birth.
Saundra Adams, Chancellor Lee’s grandmother and caregiver, told the Observer Monday that Rae Carruth would never have custody of his son. But, she said, she was pleased that Carruth had finally admitted responsibility for her daughter’s death.
“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 said in the phone interview with WBTV, the Observer’s news partner: “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.”
Carruth was convicted in 2001 for orchestrating a 1999 murder conspiracy in which he hired a hitman, Van Brett Watkins, to shoot and kill Cherica Adams – who was seven months pregnant with Carruth’s child. The alleged motivation: The former Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick didn’t want to pay child support.
Carruth, who did not testify at his murder trial, has never talked specifically about that night in public and would not do so with WBTV. Cherica Adams maintained in a 911 call just after she was shot that Carruth – whom she was following on Rea Road in south Charlotte after a movie date – had stopped in front of her.
That unexplained stop allowed Watkins and two other accomplices to pull alongside her in a rented car and shoot her four times through the driver’s side window. Adams survived that night and her baby was delivered by emergency Caesarean section. But she would die four weeks later from her wounds. The 12-minute 911 call made by a wounded Cherica Adams was a key piece of evidence prosecutors used to get Carruth – who had jumped bond and fled to Tennessee in the trunk of another woman’s car when Adams died – convicted of masterminding the murder conspiracy.
Carruth did say in his phone interview that he has apologized to Saundra Adams before and wanted to do so again publicly.
“I’m apologizing for the loss of her daughter. I’m apologizing for the impairment of my son,” Carruth said. “I feel responsible for everything that happened. And I just want her to know that truly I am sorry for everything.”
He also wrote in his letter: “I could have done a better job of keeping Cherica and Chancellor out of harms [sic] way.”
Carruth also wrote that Adams needed to face her own mortality. Adams is 60. Carruth is 44.
“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.”
Adams countered in an interview Monday: “What makes him think he’s going to live longer than me? I’m a Christian, and I’m going to live strong and long.”
But she also said if she did die before Carruth she has left a plan in place so that 18-year-old Chancellor Lee Adams – whose handicaps mean that he will never be able to live alone – has caregivers who are beloved members of her own family.
October prison release
Carruth is scheduled to be released from prison on Oct. 22. Three accomplices were also convicted in 2001 of the murder conspiracy. Two – Michael Kennedy and Stanley Abraham – have already been released from prison.
The third is hitman Van Brett Watkins, who admitted during the Carruth trial to firing five bullets into Adams’ BMW in a drive-by shooting. Watkins pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is not scheduled to get out of prison until 2046. He wrote a letter recently to the Observer in which he said that while Saundra Adams has forgiven Carruth, he has not.
“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.”
Saundra Adams has previously told the Observer she wants to be there on the day that Carruth – the Panthers top draft choice in 1997 – is released. Carruth told WBTV that once he heard that, several years ago, that he sent Adams “visitation” papers so she and Chancellor Lee could come see him earlier and in private – he is in prison at Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, N.C., about 190 east miles of Charlotte. He said in the letter that he would not participate in a public reunion on Oct. 22, however, calling the idea a “shameful, blatant charade” that would serve as a publicity stunt.
Adams said Monday she never received those visitation papers or any other letter from Carruth in the past several years, although Carruth told WBTV he has tried to make contact several times with her since then. Adams acknowledged that she sometimes has friends go through her mail for her and that it conceivably could have been sent without her ever receiving it.
“I would welcome receiving some visitation papers from him,” Adams said. “I never have gotten any, but I do welcome a conversation with him. He can have some supervised visitation with his son – I am open to that. I have mixed feelings about him breaking his silence. In some ways, he sounds more mature than he did. I’m glad to hear of the repentance and of his relationship with God. But what I’m also hearing is some of the same old self-centered Rae.”
Carruth said in the opening of his letter that he has “long accepted my lot as a social pariah.” He sent the 15-page open letter not to Adams directly but instead to WBTV (although Adams now has been provided a copy of it and disputes many parts of it). Carruth also wrote that he realized the letter “will only add to the public ire against me” but felt compelled to write it to “debunk the lies that Ms. Adams continues to tell about me.”
‘I was very immature’
Carruth said in his phone interview with WBTV that he has changed from the young NFL player he was when he was originally convicted.
“Back then, I was very immature,” he said. “Very self-centered.”
He said he has found God in prison.
“I feel like I owe Chancellor,” Carruth said. “I let him down as he came into this world and the only way that I can make that right, the only way I can work out my relationship with my son, is to be there for him and to be a father and a dad to him going forward.”
Carruth had not done an interview since 2001, when he spoke to a CNN reporter and accepted no responsibility for Cherica Adams’ murder.
Now a prison barber, Carruth also said in the letter that he and Adams had originally met in 1998 and continued a relationship into 1999 on a sporadic basis – drawn together not by love but by “lust.”
He wrote that “outside of what we did physically, me and your daughter were practically strangers” and repeated a detail he told CNN in 2001 – that he did not know Adams’ last name until they attended a Lamaze childbirth class together. He said that she was never his girlfriend and that they were never exclusively bound to each other in any way.
‘Lust was the tie’
“Lust was the tie that bound us, not like or love,” he wrote. And: “I guess you could say that when it came to carnal indulgences – we were kindred spirits.”
Saundra Adams said Monday: “It may have just been a hook-up for him, but I challenge there was no love between them. I feel like my daughter truly loved him.”
Adams also said that while she disagreed with many parts of the letter that she was “glad that Rae put this out in the universe,” primarily because of the way he has finally accepted responsibility for her daughter’s death.
But she reiterated: “He’s not going to have custody of Chancellor. The law is on my side on that one. Rae tried to have Chancellor murdered – plus he’s a perfect stranger (Carruth and Chancellor have not seen each other since Chancellor was a baby). I’m not even mad about the idea, because it’s not going to happen. I am not going to waste my emotion on it.
“And no matter what, all of this is not going to bring Cherica back to me.”