CLINTON, N.C. — Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth took his first steps as a free man in nearly 19 years, leaving the Sampson Correctional Institution after serving his prison sentence for plotting the death of his pregnant girlfriend.
Carruth, 44, wore a black skull cap and black jacket as he emerged from the minimum-security facility. He got into a Chevy Tahoe without talking to the more than 20 news media members assembled nearby. The tires of the white SUV screeched as he left.
Prison officials did not disclose who met Carruth and ferried him away from the facility.
Carruth was convicted in 2001 for conspiracy to commit murder, using an instrument with intent to destroy an unborn child and discharging a firearm into occupied property in the shooting near Carruth’s Charlotte home on Nov. 16, 1999, that led to the death of Cherica Adams.
Chancellor Lee Adams, Carruth's son whom the hitman testified Carruth wanted dead so he wouldn’t have to pay child support, was born premature and suffers from cerebral palsy.
Carruth was acquitted of the most serious charge, first-degree murder, at trial. While he’s no longer incarcerated, Carruth will serve a nine-month supervised probation term related to his convictions.
"I think Rae will acclimate pretty easily," Gordon Widenhouse, an attorney who handled Carruth's appeal, told USA TODAY Sports. "He's a very engaging individual. He's intelligent. I think he will find a way to integrate himself back into society.
"I think it's difficult any time for anyone who has been in prison any significant amount of time, and then they're released and try to find employment, find housing, make friends and try to be accepted within a community. I think Rae has a good attitude. He's taken care of himself while he was in prison. I think and hope he will find a way to make it in the real world. "
Carruth has remained largely mum as he’s sat in various North Carolina prison facilities over the last nearly two decades, outside an interview with WBTV in February.
"I'm apologizing for the loss of her daughter,” Carruth told the Charlotte-based TV station. “I'm apologizing for the impairment of my son. I feel responsible for everything that happened. And I just want her to know that truly I am sorry for everything."
In the interview, Carruth said he’d seek to gain “responsibility back” for raising Chancellor Lee Adams after his release, although he wrote to The Charlotte Observer he would “no longer be pursuing a relationship with Chancellor” or Saundra Adams, Cherica’s mother who has raised Chancellor.
"I promise to leave them be, which I now see is in everyone’s best interest,” Carruth wrote.
Carruth fled after the shooting before his capture in December 1999, in Tennessee as authorities found him hiding in the trunk of a car outside of a hotel.
Carruth, a native of Sacramento, California, was drafted in the first round by the Panthers in 1997 after he played collegiately at the University of Colorado. He was a first-team All-American in 1996.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' A.J. Perez on Twitter @byajperez.
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