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Rae Carruth Murder Trial
The jury could have convicted Carruth of first-degree murder based on either conspiracy or felony murder with the underlying felony being shooting into an unoccupied vehicle. Rudolf admitted after the proceeding that he was upset by the verdict saying, "I think it's logically inconsistent and that's something that troubles me greatl,." but the defense lawyer was optimistic about an appeal. "The first degree murder charge is gone forevermore," Rudolf said.
During the eight-week trial, prosecutors argued that Carruth masterminded
the shooting to avoid paying child support and rid himself of his relationship
with Adams. Adams survived for nearly a month before succumbing to four gunshot
wounds. The baby, Chancellor, was delivered by an emergency Caesarean shortly
after the shooting and lives with Adams' mother. The defense maintained that
Carruth was looking forward to the birth of his second child and could easily
afford child support. Carruth's lawyers also contended that the shooting
was the result of a drug-related dispute.
In his opening argument, defense attorney David Rudolf said that admitted
gunman Van Brett Watkins and wheelman Michael Kennedy were
trying to pressure Carruth into financing a drug deal for them. When Carruth
ultimately refused, the two men, with co-defendant Stanley Abraham,
followed Carruth and Adams from a movie theater where they had seen "The
Bone Collector", Rudolf contended. The couple was originally en route to
Adams' apartment, the defense said, but Adams changed her mind about Carruth
coming over and the two parted directions. Carruth was already headed to
teammate Hannibal Navies' house and on the phone with another
woman in Atlanta by the time Kennedy pulled up alongside Adams' BMW
and Watkins opened fire, according to the defense.
The first pieces of evidence introduced to the jury were arguably the most
powerful. They were the words of Cherica Adams herself. Through a host of
medical and emergency personnel called to the stand, the prosecution admitted
into evidence the 911 recording in which Adams moaned in pain as she tried
to guide paramedics to her location. During the call, she said Rae Carruth's
car was in front of hers at the time of the shooting and speculated that
he was responsible for it. "I don't know what to think," she said. She also
wrote three pages of notes at the hospital, further implicating Carruth in
Adams wasn't the only one to implicate Carruth. The man who pulled the trigger
said that Carruth commissioned him to kill Adams. "I did it because he made
me do it," Van Brett Watkins testified, gesturing toward Carruth. "He dragged
me into something I didn't want to be involved in." During his testimony,
the hulking ex-convict ranged from threatening, fiery exchanges with Rudolf
to quiet tears.
A parade of women took the stand during the trial, some to sing Carruth's
praises but others to discredit Carruth as a womanizer who wanted to kill
the women he impregnated. One ex-girlfriend, Candace Smith, testified
that Carruth admitted involvement in the shooting as the two stood in the
hospital waiting room where doctors were working to save Cherica Adams and
Chancellor. "He said, 'I can't get in trouble, can I? Because I didn't actually
pull the trigger,'" testified Smith, a former stripper who did not wish to
have her face on camera. She also said that after Adams refused to have an
abortion, Carruth told her "he would have someone go over and kick her in
the stomach and make her have a miscarriage," she testified.
A host of professional athletes took the stand on Carruth's behalf. Leonard Wheeler, William Floyd and Muhsin Muhammad, all fellow Panthers, painted the wide receiver as a soft-spoken jokester who enjoyed playing video games, loved kids and volunteered his time in the community. Navies, a teammate with Carruth both on the Panthers and at the University of Colorado, testified that Carruth seemed fine when he arrived at his house after his date with Adams. Even a former professional basketball player took the stand, but his testimony wasn't as positive as that of Carruth's ex-teammates. Charles Shackleford, who played for the Charlotte Hornets, also took the stand. The married athlete admitted to having an affair with Candace Smith, during which time she told him that Carruth admitted responsibility in the shooting, he testified.
The phone played a pivotal role in the case. Prosecutors presented records
of calls made between Carruth's and Kennedy's cell phones around the time
of the shooting. But through the testimony of private investigator Ron Guerette,
the defense contended the pattern of calls reflected a drug deal, not a contract
killing. The defense also said that Carruth was on the phone with another
girlfriend, Alondia Cheney, at the time of the shooting, proving that he
was not directly in front of Adams' car.
In the end, it seemed the jury believed Carruth capable of committing criminal acts more than they believed the glowing portrayals painted by his allies. The drug-deal theory was not mentioned much by the defense after opening arguments, and several witnesses were conspicuously absent from the stand. Among those who did not take the stand were Alondia Cheney, Stanley Abraham and Wendy Cole who drove Carruth in the trunk of her car to Tennessee.
Perhaps the witness jurors wanted to hear from most was Carruth himself,
who chose not to testify during the trial.
Also arrested and charged was Van Brett Watkins a 44-year-old auto detailer with a criminal past who had done odd jobs for Carruth.
The arrests of the two other men allegedly in the car with Watkins followed. Michael Eugene Kennedy, 25, another auto detailer who knew Watkins, was believed to be the driver, and Stanley Abraham, 19, Kennedy's best friend, was allegedly in the passenger seat when the shooting occurred.
According to police, phone records show that Carruth and Kennedy were talking to each other on their cellular phones at the time of the shooting.
Though prosecutors have remained tight-lipped about their theory of the crime, motions filed by the state reveal some insight into how they believe the shooting unfolded: Wanting to rid himself of Adams and her unborn baby, Carruth met with the three men at his house shortly before his date with her. While Carruth and Adams were at the movies, the three men went in a rental car to purchase a gun with $100 Carruth gave Kennedy. After buying the gun, they waited in a gas station parking lot near the movie theater. When Carruth and Adams emerged, the three men followed each of their cars. Watkins, seated in the backseat, fired five shots at Adams.
The only hitch in this alleged plan was that Adams lived to tell about it -- at least temporarily.
A week after his arrest, the Carolina Panthers put Carruth, still in custody at the time, on unpaid leave. A few days later on Dec. 7, Carruth was released on a $3 million bond with the agreement that he would turn himself in if either Adams or the baby died.
On Dec. 14, Adams succumbed to her injuries. The cause of her death was multiple organ failure. Charges against Carruth and the other suspects were upgraded to murder.
Carruth, the only suspect free on bail, was supposed to turn himself in. But an hour after learning of Adams' death he was in the trunk of a Toyota Camry driven by a female friend heading to Tennessee.
According to prosecutors, Carruth wanted friend Wendy Cole to drive him to California. Instead, she called his mother, Theodry Carruth, who alerted his bail bondsman out of fear for her son's safety. She appeared on national television, telling Good Morning America that she was in contact with her son and that he was going to turn himself in to police.
Twenty-one hours and 500 miles later, Carruth was taken into custody by the FBI who had discovered him in the trunk in a motel parking lot in Wildersville, Tenn. Among the supplies they found in the trunk with Carruth were a cell phone, candy bars, bottles to hold his urine and $3,900 in cash.
Ironically, it was only at this juncture -- after Carruth had become a fugitive -- that the NFL severed all ties with the wide receiver.
Carruth gave a statement to the FBI, claiming that he was not at the crime scene when Adams was shot. Further, Carruth said that he did not learn of the attack until the following morning. According to the statement, Carruth said he was in front of Adams' car briefly, heading toward her apartment after the movie.
But before they got there, he said, she changed her mind about him staying over. He says that she pulled up alongside his car and told him not to come with her. Then he drove off, heading to the home of teammate Hannibal Navies.
Proving that he was driving carefree to Navies house, Carruth said, was a phone call he placed to a girlfriend in Atlanta from his cell phone around the time of the shooting. Before dialing her number, however, he accidentally speed-dialed Kennedy's cell phone, got his voice mail and hung up before dialing the correct phone number. Phone records show that he did place a 16-minute call to Atlanta at 12:27 a.m., more than a half-hour after he called Kennedy.
Other than finding Carruth guilty of premeditated murder, prosecutors have one other chance to execute the former wide receiver. They must convince the jury that Carruth murdered Adams while committing another felony -- trying to kill his unborn baby. Though intended to punish unlawful abortions, Article 11 of the North Carolina Criminal Law provision makes it illegal for an individual to use or employ drugs or "any instrument or other means with intent thereby to destroy such child" after the first 20 weeks of a woman's pregnancy. The only exception is in instances when the preganancy must be terminated to spare the mother's life.
In January, a grand jury indicted the four suspects for murder, for conspiracy to commit murder and for using a firearm with the intent to kill an unborn baby, a rarely used state law written to regulate abortion.
Prosecutors offered all four suspects a simple deal: plead guilty, testify against the other defendants and avoid a possible death sentence. Nonetheless, their alleged acts would guarantee a lengthy prison term. Even with no previous criminal record, the best Carruth could have hoped for was a 30-year sentence.
Carruth's lawyers announced they would steadfastly refuse any agreement with the prosecutors, saying that their client was looking forward to standing trial so that he could clear his name.
But while Carruth turned down a chance to avoid the death penalty, career criminal Watkins cut a deal.
Watkins pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, discharging a firearm into Adams' car and attempting to kill her unborn baby. Watkins, whose sentencing won't be scheduled until after the trials of Carruth and his co-defendants, faces up to 50 years in prison.
As part of the deal, Watkins agreed to testify that Carruth offered to pay him $5,000 to beat Adams so severely that she would suffer a miscarriage. Carruth later decided against the beating, according to Watkins, opting instead for a permanent solution. Carruth then asked Watkins to kill her, prosecuters allege.
Kennedy corroborated Watkins' account that Carruth arranged the shooting and that Carruth was at the scene when the shooting occurred.
Kennedy further claimed that Carruth gave him $100 for a gun and coerced him into buying the murder weapon, threatening his life if he refused.
Watkins, an ex-convict whose rap sheet includes several convictions for violent crimes, including threatening a police officer with a knife, also has a history of mental illness. He even requires anti-psychotic drugs, according to his lawyer, Jean Lawson.
Given Watkins' record of physical and psychological instability, it was not a complete surprise to learn that Watkins has recently changed his story. Just days before jury selection, the defense learned of a conversation Watkins had with a Mecklenburg Sheriff's sergeant. According to the sergeant's statement, Watkins told him that he shot Adams because she made an obscene gesture at him, not because Carruth had hired him as a hitman.
"She looked over at the car and seen us, she flipped me off. ... I lost it. I just started shooting," Watkins reportedly said.
According to a motion filed by Carruth's lawyers, Watkins also said that he was angry about Carruth's refusal to finance a drug deal. This anger, not any prior arrangement, is what led him, Kennedy and Abraham to follow Carruth on the night of the shooting. Adams, in other words, was an accidental victim.
"It was Rae's fault," Watkins said, according to the motion. "If he had just given us the money none of this would have happened."
By changing his account, he not only jeopardized the state's case against Carruth, but his own fate. His plea deal can be nullified if he recants his story on the stand.
The latest account by Watkins fits into the defense's theory that Watkins is a drug trafficker who funnels drugs into Charlotte from Atlanta. The defense admit that Carruth initially agreed to loan Watkins money to purchase a large quantity of drugs, but that he later had second thoughts when Watkins showed up at his house with a bag full of marijuana just prior to his date with Adams.
The defense maintains that, when Kennedy asked him to reconsider, Carruth agreed to meet up with the three men after his date.
According to Carruth's lawyers, not only did the former pro-football player have no involvement in the shooting, he was looking forward to the birth of his second child.
While the relationship between Adams and Carruth was obviously more than platonic, some teammates of Carruth described Adams as a friend. Others called it a fling. Carruth's mother has said that she had never even heard of Adams until the shooting.
Although it's unclear whether Adams objected to a casual relationship, Carruth clearly was dating other women. The day following the shooting, another woman Carruth was seeing, Nakish Stewart, says Carruth was at her apartment in tears, according to a New York Times report.
Carruth even offered a cell phone call to another woman in Atlanta as an alibi during the shooting.
One key witness in the state's case is Candace Smith, Carruth's ex-girlfriend, who says she was still dating Carruth while he was seeing Adams. She says she was at Carruth's side as doctors fought to save Adams and the baby.
Smith claims that as he stood in the hospital waiting area, Carruth said he hated Adams and wished she would die, the Charlotte Observer reported. She said that Carruth admitted to her that he was in front of Adams' car when the incident occurred.
Smith also shed light on a turbulent relationship between Adams and Carruth in the months leading up to the shooting.
She said Carruth confided in her about the pregnancy and that he was angry when Adams refused to have an abortion.
Smith also recounted for police a date she had with Carruth at Ericsson Stadium following a game. According to Smith, a pregnant Adams showed up unexpectedly, prompting an argument between the two women that grew so heated that stadium security intervened.
Prosecutors say the case all comes down to money. They charge that Carruth was driven to murder because he didn't want to pay Adams child support. In addition to the legal battle with Wright, the future of his injury-plagued career was uncertain as he entered the last year of a four-year contract with the Panthers. He was also experiencing other money problems stemming from investments in a nationwide pyramid scheme, in addition to being sued over a real estate deal.
Smith told investigators that Carruth was annoyed with the prospect of paying more child support and dealing with more court claims.
Carruth's attorneys, however, portray their client as a responsible father who had every intention of supporting the new baby. The defense points out that Carruth, in addition to his salary, was worth about $500,000 and that money was not an issue for him. They also say he was looking forward to the birth, accompanying Adams on doctor visits and Lamaze classes and paying more than $1,000 in expenses.
Temporary custody of Chancellor Lee Adams was granted to his maternal grandmother, Saundra Adams, who also successfully sought for Carruth to sell his house to pay child support while in jail.
Carruth, who submitted to a paternity test which proved him to be Chancellor's father and consented to the custody order, vowed to seek custody of the baby if acquitted. In August, a judge granted Carruth jailhouse visits with Chancellor.
Carruth's youngest visitor, however, is at the heart of Carruth's alleged murder plot.
Now it's up to a jury to decide whether Carruth will win freedom or be condemned to death.