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Cherica was thrilled about her unborn son. She read My First Bible out loud and immersed him in the music of Bach and Beethoven. And although Saundra rejoiced with Cherica, because she saw every life as a gift from God, she knew it would be complicated. Cherica wanted to give the baby the Carruth name, but her mother was against it.
If you're not married when the baby comes into this world, Saundra said, he needs to be an Adams.
Rae Carruth didn't want him to be anything. True to form, he told Cherica to get an abortion.
Carruth's life was quickly diverging from the script. After making the NFL All-Rookie team in 1997, when he led all first-year players with 44 catches, for 545 yards, he had missed most of the '98 season with a broken right foot. He felt shunned by his Carolina teammates and stayed home alone, playing football on his PlayStation. He planned to come back stronger than ever in '99, but in September he was benched for part of the game after dropping a crucial pass in a two-point loss to the Jaguars. In mid-October, against the 49ers, he suffered a left-ankle sprain that would keep him out for a month. Another season was derailed. His career was going nowhere. And now another woman would soon be demanding child support.
Carruth knew a guy called New York and another guy called Little Man. New York weighed 286 pounds and would do anything for money and plenty of things for free. He had once stood on a roof for several hours, throwing glass window panes down at the police. He had once set a fellow prison inmate on fire. Little Man was not so frightening, but he knew his way around a gun and a crack deal. For someone who wanted to solve a problem outside the law, New York and Little Man appeared to be useful men.
Cherica went to a childbirth class, and Carruth went with her. New York later testified under oath about that. He said Carruth told him to meet them after the class and beat up Cherica and make her lose the baby. But New York didn't show. He was nothing if not a con man, so he strung Carruth along. One time New York agreed to find Cherica at her apartment and kill the kid there. Another time he was going to ambush her behind a restaurant. He took cash payments of $300 and $2,000 and kept delaying. Finally, they settled on a plan to murder Cherica.
On Nov. 15, 1999, when Cherica was about seven months pregnant, she got a call at her apartment. Carruth wanted to take her to the movies. Cherica fired up the BMW and drove to his house.
From there, she called her mother. Strange men were coming and going. She saw an odd transaction that involved bootleg satellite television. Something's not right, she told Saundra. I don't know why I'm even here.
Just cancel the movie, Saundra said. Tell him you're not going. You're just gonna leave.