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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

When Rae Carruth Speaks, No One Should Listen

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Rae Carruth, the former Carolina Panthers wide receiver convicted in 2001 of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend, now has a different story about the night Cherica Adams was fatally shot in south Charlotte. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson says Carruth’s new version of what happened comes at a time that’s a little too convenient.

For three months in late 2000 and early 2001, I covered the Rae Carruth trial from start to finish for the Charlotte Observer. I was inside the courtroom from jury selection all the way through the verdict. Dozens of people spoke during the trial: witnesses, lawyers, the judge. But the man at the center didn’t say a word. Carruth never took the stand.

The story his lawyers told was always the same: Carruth wasn’t there when Cherica Adams was shot. They had been at a movie together, but left in separate cars, and he didn’t see another car come up beside hers in a little swale on Rea Road. He didn’t see her get shot by a career criminal named Van Brett Watkins. He had nothing to do with the shooting that led to the death of Adams four days later, and the permanent disability of their then-unborn son, Chancellor.

That was the story back then. But Carruth has a new story now.

David Rudolf, Carruth’s lead attorney, told the Observer’s Scott Fowler last week that Carruth now admits he was at the scene, just ahead of Adams’ car. He saw Watkins pull up beside her. He got scared – because, he says, Watkins was mad at him for refusing to finance a drug deal. So he drove away.

Let’s stop and consider the best-case scenario here: Rae Carruth ran from someone he knew to be a violent man, and left his pregnant girlfriend behind to fend for herself.

But even that’s not the story Van Brett Watkins told at the trial. He said Carruth hired him to kill Adams because she wouldn’t have an abortion and he didn’t want to pay child support. Michael Kennedy, who bought the gun Watkins used and drove the car he rode in, told a similar story. And Cherica Adams herself, after she’d been shot, told a 911 operator that Carruth was in front of her and had slowed down before Watkins’ car came around beside.

And after 11 weeks of testimony from 70 witnesses, that’s the story the jury believed.

Rae Carruth gets out of prison next month after serving 18 years for his crimes. He has said he wants a relationship with his son, who has been raised by Cherica’s mother. Maybe he thinks this new story helps him somehow, makes him look like he’s owning up to something important.

One of the things that became the most apparent during Carruth’s trial was the delusional world he lived in. He was a rich, handsome football star. He could discard women, treat them like trash, because new ones always kept coming. His whole life, no one told him no. Until Cherica Adams.

There’s one moment in the trial that I still think about a lot. Michael Kennedy testified that after Watkins shot Cherica Adams, and they drove away, he looked in his rear-view mirror. Her car had rolled off the road. But he saw her brake lights come on. That’s when he knew she was still alive. And that’s when he knew everyone who set out to kill her was doomed.

I wish Rae Carruth would consider that brake light. And every time he starts to change his story again, unless he wants to admit the whole truth, he should do one thing: Stop.

Tommy Tomlinson’s commentaries appear every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. They represent his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to his commentaries on wfae.org. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.