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Carruth: partial acquittal

Ex-Panthers receiver convicted on three lesser counts, cleared of first-degree murder. He could get 25 years in prison.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2001

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former NFL player Rae Carruth was acquitted of first-degree murder but convicted of conspiracy and two other charges Friday in the fatal shooting of his pregnant girlfriend.

Carruth, who turned 27 today, was spared the death penalty but could get as many as 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and using an instrument -- a gun -- with intent to kill an unborn child.

Cherica Adams, 24, was ambushed and shot four times in her car on a Charlotte street in November 1999 in an attack prosecutors said Carruth arranged to avoid paying child support. She died a month later.

The former Panthers receiver was grim-faced as the jury's decision, reached after about 20 hours of deliberation, was announced. A day earlier, the jurors had said they were deadlocked.

Juror Edward Karst said he was satisfied with what he called a "compromise verdict."

"We couldn't get agreement for the first-degree," Karst said in a brief telephone interview. "We didn't spend 41/2 days in there for nothing. We didn't want it to be a waste of everybody's time. I think we made the right decision."

The sentencing hearing is Monday. Defense lawyer David Rudolf said he will ask judge Charles Lamm to vacate the conspiracy conviction because it is inconsistent with the murder acquittal.

"My first reaction is deep disappointment. I'm grateful they found him not guilty of first-degree murder," Rudolf said. "It's hard for me to feel like it's a victory. ... I believe in my client's innocence, and I don't feel he is guilty of any of the charges in the first place."

As the verdict was announced, Adams' mother, Saundra Adams, tearfully embraced relatives. She hugged prosecutors Gentry Caudill and David Graham after the jury left. Caudill refused to comment on the verdict.

"Justice has spoken," said Frank Porter, lawyer for Adams' father, Jeff Moonie. "It has given them closure."

Carruth's mother, Theodry, stared quietly at her son until he and the jury left, then huddled with supporters and prayed.

Confessed gunman Van Brett Watkins and Michael Kennedy, who drove the car that carried Watkins, testified that Carruth arranged the shooting.

Perhaps the most damning testimony came from Adams herself, as prosecutors played a recording of her call to a 911 operator moments after she was shot.

Moaning in pain, Adams said Carruth had stopped his Ford Expedition in front of her car when "somebody pulled up beside me and did this. ... I think he did it. I don't know what to think."

Her son, Chancellor, was delivered by emergency Caesarean section and is now in the custody of Saundra Adams.

Carruth's defense insisted Watkins shot Adams on his own because he was angry that Carruth had backed out of a drug deal and because Adams made an obscene gesture at him from her car.

The defense also challenged the idea that Carruth, who has an older son, was afraid to pay child support. Lawyers called team officials to testify that he was making more than $650,000.

Carruth maintained his innocence, claiming he was miles from the shooting and had nothing to do with its planning.

After his release on $3-million bond in late 1999, Carruth was expected to turn himself in to police if Adams died. But when she died, he fled. FBI agents found him the next day hiding in the trunk of a car outside a motel in Tennessee.

At the time of the shooting, Carruth was a member of the Panthers, who drafted him 27th overall in 1997 after a standout career at Colorado.

He started 14 games as a rookie and led all first-year NFL players with 44 receptions for 545 yards. But his second and third seasons were hampered by injuries and he played in only a handful of games. The team dropped him when he fled to Tennessee.

The NFL had no comment. The Panthers released a statement that read: "This has been a most difficult ordeal for everyone involved. We respect the legal process that has run its course."

Watkins pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is awaiting sentencing. The trial for Kennedy, charged with first-degree murder, is unscheduled.

Carruth's trial began during a year of high-profile crimes involving athletes.

Another former Panthers player, Fred Lane, was shot to death in July in what prosecutors said was a domestic dispute with his wife.

Ray Lewis, an All-Pro linebacker with the Ravens, was accused of murder in the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party last January. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, and his co-defendants later were acquitted.

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