I first met Rae Carruth in 1997, when I was a beat writer covering the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and he was their most recent No. 1 draft choice.
I never could have imagined then that I would still be writing about Carruth today – this time in connection with his release from prison Oct. 22.
Along with Observer videographer Jeff Siner, I have spent much of the past year tracking down everyone I could who was involved with either the murder of Carruth’s pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, or with the resulting trial.
We have conducted dozens of exclusive interviews with family, friends, lawyers, investigators and the man who shot Adams four times just after midnight on a dark Charlotte road on Nov. 16, 1999.
The result is a multimedia project called “Carruth.” It includes a seven-part podcast – the first serialized podcast McClatchy has produced – as well as a video documentary and a seven-part series in The Charlotte Observer and on charlotteobserver.com.
Convicted of conspiring to murder Adams but acquitted of first-degree murder, Carruth has served 19 years in prison. His son, Chancellor Lee Adams, didn’t die the night his mother was shot but suffered brain damage and cerebral palsy due to the traumatic circumstances of his birth.
Yet Saundra Adams, Cherica’s mother and Chancellor’s beloved “G-Mom,” has forgiven Carruth and the other three men involved in shooting her daughter and disabling her grandson.
The storyline is familiar to some. But with the passage of time, we found that people were more willing to talk openly about what really happened the night Cherica Adams was shot, how prosecutors and defense attorneys shaped their cases, and why the jury came back with a compromise verdict.
The shooting not only produced Charlotte’s trial of the century, but its larger themes struck chords that went far beyond football: murder, betrayal, love, forgiveness and courage.
If you’re lucky as a journalist, you get one story in your career that fascinates you for years on end – one you keep thinking about just before you go to sleep. This one is mine.