CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the 20th anniversary of Cherica Adams' death approaches, Saundra Adams said she has heard from the man convicted of orchestrating her daughter's murder -- former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth.
Carruth, who was released from a North Carolina prison in October 2018 after serving nearly 19 years, recently mailed what Saundra Adams called "a very significant and generous gift" to his son, Chancellor Lee Adams.
However, Carruth sent the money through the Mecklenburg County Court system, so there was no return address to write back to by the time the money got to Adams in Charlotte. The check, Saundra Adams said, was for several thousand dollars. There was no note from Carruth enclosed, and no phone-call follow-up. But there was a note from a court official indicating the money came directly from Carruth, the Panthers' No. 1 draft pick in 1997.
"I want to acknowledge that Rae did this," Adams said in a phone interview. "To me, it spoke volumes. I am truly grateful. And if he never sends another dime to his son, to me this still means that his heart is changing."
Carruth, who hasn't seen his son since Chancellor Lee Adams was a baby, moved to Pennsylvania to get a fresh start once his prison sentence ended 14 months ago. He and the Adamses haven't spoken with each other since then. The check represented their first contact since Carruth was released.
Pregnant with Carruth's child, Cherica Adams was ambushed in a drive-by shooting in Charlotte on Nov. 16, 1999. Carruth wasn't the shooter, but a jury convicted him of conspiring to murder his pregnant, on-and-off girlfriend by hiring a hitman named Van Brett Watkins. Watkins remains in prison and has a scheduled release date of 2046.
Chancellor Lee Adams survived his mother being shot four times, but he was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy due to being deprived of blood and oxygen during the chaotic minutes after his mother was shot on Rea Road in Charlotte. He has been raised since birth by his grandmother and Cherica's mother, Saundra Adams, and recently turned 20. He is scheduled to graduate from high school in May 2020.
Cherica Adams survived for 28 days following the shooting before she passed away in a Charlotte hospital on Dec. 14, 1999. Saundra Adams plans to gather a few close friends on Saturday -- the 20th anniversary of her daughter's death -- and eat breakfast together at a local pancake house that Cherica loved before visiting the cemetery where her daughter is buried and releasing balloons in honor of her daughter.
While the Panthers long stayed far away from the situation after cutting ties with Carruth, in 2018 under new owner David Tepper they welcomed the Adamses onto the field before a Panthers game. And in October 2019, the Panthers fan club "Roaring Riot" -- inspired by The Charlotte Observer podcast "Carruth," which took an eight-part look at the case and its aftermath -- took the Adamses with them on an all-expense paid trip to London to see Carolina play.
In 2003, Adams was awarded nearly $5.8 million in damages for the murder of her daughter. The award was symbolic, however, as the four men who were convicted in the conspiracy to murder Adams (including Carruth and Watkins) were either unemployed or in prison at the time.
Adams said the payment also had a notation on it that it represented a first "partial payment" toward the million-plus dollars that Carruth was determined to owe her. Carruth didn't immediately respond to several requests for comment Thursday as to why he sent the money.
Adams has long said she has forgiven all the men involved in her daughter's death, and has done so because "you can't hold on to past hurt and regret and unforgiveness. You have to let it go. Only love promotes peace."
Carruth, in the only interview he has done since leaving prison, told me last year: "My only desire is for true forgiveness and a genuine opportunity to be a part of my son's life." The former Panther has never admitted that he hired Watkins to shoot Cherica Adams, instead saying Watkins did so in retribution for a drug deal that fell apart when Carruth pulled out of financing it.
Adams said Thursday as the 20th anniversary of her daughter's death approaches: "I really feel sad sometimes. The emotion is still raw. In some ways it feels like it was two weeks ago, not 20 years ago. But I have learned to live, and move on, and to celebrate what I have left instead of just mourning what I lost."
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