Rae Carruth was jolted as his murder trial opened
By Lester Munson
MEDIC: And then where'd he go?
CALLER: He just left.
MEDIC: Okay. All right, what's his name?
CALLER: Rae Carruth. He plays for the Panthers.
If it hadn't been before, one thing became clear as Rae Carruth's trial for the murder of Cherica Adams began last week in Charlotte: The former Carolina receiver is in the fight of his life.
The state's case is that Carruth, injured, fearing the end of his NFL paydays and loath to take on the expense of supporting a second out-of-wedlock child, planned the Nov. 16, 1999, fatal shooting of Adams, who was 6 1/2 months pregnant with their son. The prosecution also asserts that Carruth hired a career criminal, Van Brett Watkins, to carry out the murder.
The defense suggests that Adams was the victim of a drug deal gone bad. Carruth's lawyers contend that Watkins and another man, Michael Kennedy, had approached Carruth seeking $5,000 to finance a marijuana deal and that after Carruth turned them down, the two went looking for him to ask him to reconsider. Watkins, according to the defense, ended up shooting Adams in a rage.
The prosecution's star witness was expected to be the victim. Indeed, the voice of Adams, who delivered a boy, Chancellor, by cesarean section hours after the shooting but died of multiple gunshot wounds four weeks later, came through loud and clear. During the first day of testimony prosecutors played a 12-minute tape of the 911 call (including the excerpt above) she made immediately after the shooting. That call placed Carruth at the scene and supported the prosecution's claim that he had helped ambush Adams.
The prosecution then unveiled a surprise witness: Kennedy. As the driver of the car carrying the confessed triggerman, Watkins, Kennedy faces capital murder charges. Without benefit of a plea bargain and taking the stand over the objections of his lawyer, he testified that Carruth gave him $100 to buy the murder weapon; that Carruth set up the ambush by calling Kennedy to alert him that he and Adams were leaving Carruth's house in separate vehicles; and that Carruth, in his Ford Expedition, slowed to a stop in front of Adams's BMW, allowing Kennedy to pull alongside Adams. Kennedy said Watkins then fired "four, maybe five" shots into the car.
Kennedy's testimony may be devastating for Carruth. Watkins has plea-bargained to second-degree murder, and it was expected that the state's case would center on him. Kennedy had no deal when he took the stand and has said he was testifying solely to tell the truth. That makes it difficult for Carruth's lawyers to impugn his testimony on grounds of self-preservation.
The prosecution is expected to introduce cell phone records and ballistics evidence to support its charge of premeditation. It will also call several of Carruth's girlfriends to testify relating to his antipathy toward Adams and the baby she was carrying. Carruth's lawyers will counter with their drug-deal defense and present evidence that Carruth looked forward to supporting the child. Kennedy's testimony means the prosecution might not call Watkins, who, ironically, may now be essential to Carruth's case. While Watkins told police that Carruth masterminded the murder, he related the drug story to a jail guard; and Carruth's lawyers may have to call Watkins to elicit that story. Their client's life might depend on it.
Issue date: December 4, 2000
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