(CNN/WBTV) – Rae Carruth, a former NFL star who was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder of his girlfriend and attempting to destroy their unborn child almost 20 years ago, is set to be released from prison Monday.
The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver, who is expected to walk out of the Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, spoke to CNN affiliate WSOC by phone days ahead of his release.
“I’m excited about just being out of here,” Carruth said to the station. “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.”
The former first-round draft pick hired a hitman, Van Brett Watkins, to pull the trigger on 24-year-old Cherica Adams, who was 8 months pregnant, on Nov. 16, 1999.
Carruth, then in his third season with the Panthers, and Watkins went on a movie date at Regal Cinemas in south Charlotte. Afterward, they left in separate cars, with Carruth driving ahead of Adams.
A third car driven by a friend of Carruth’s, Michael Kennedy, followed behind the couple eventually pulling alongside Cherica firing shots in the driver side window, according to The Charlotte Observer. Prosecutors said Carruth used his vehicle to block Adams’ car so a hired gunman could shoot her.
Adams managed to stop her car and call 911 on her cell phone implicating Carruth in the shooting.
She died four weeks after the shooting of multiple organ failures stemming from gunshot wounds. Her baby, Chancellor Lee Adams – now 18 – was delivered via C-section.
Cherica’s mother, Saundra Adams, has been by her grandson’s side as he’s fought to overcome the challenges that come along with his Cerebral Palsy diagnosis.
After a nationwide manhunt, Carruth was captured in Tennessee in December 1999 and arrested for a second time. He was found hiding in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of a Best Western in Wildersville, which is about 100 miles northeast from Memphis.
He was convicted in 2001 of conspiracy to commit murder, discharging a firearm into occupied property and attempting to destroy an unborn child.
He was acquitted of the most serious charge of first-degree murder that could have resulted in the death penalty. The verdicts came back after four days of deliberations.
After his conviction, Carruth did an interview with CNN, saying he and Adams were never a couple.
“As far as Cherica and I are concerned, we never dated,” Carruth said in the interview in February 2001. “We were never boyfriend and girlfriend … we slept together … there was no conversation.”
Carruth spoke to WBTV in February, reporting that Carruth did not answer specific questions but took responsibility for “everything that happened.”
Also in February, WBTV obtained a 15-page letter from Carruth, which he wrote as an open letter to Saundra Adams. In it, he apologizes for the death of Cherica Adams and Chancellor Adams’ impairment.
“If I could change anything, I’d change the whole situation,” Carruth wrote, according to the report. “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.”
Carruth also wrote about wanting to establish a relationship with Chancellor Adams, saying that once Saundra Adams has passed away that someone will need to be responsible for him.
“I should be raising my son,” Carruth wrote, per the report. “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.”
According to WSOC, Saundra Adams said she has a plan for family members to care for Chancellor Adams when she no longer can.
Carruth’s mother Theodry Swift spoke to WBTV via video chat about her son’s upcoming release. She said the first thing she’ll do when she sees Carruth is “what any mother would do” – hug her son.
“He has grown so much,” she said. “You can’t go into a situation like this one way and not come out changed for the better.”