Defense: Carruth's rights were violated

Updated: March 10, 2005, 11:41 AM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth returned to court Thursday in his latest attempt to overturn a 2001 conviction in the slaying of his pregnant girlfriend.

The appeal in Mecklenburg Superior Court challenges the admission of key prosecution evidence during Carruth's trial in late 2000: a 911 call from girlfriend Cherica Adams following the shooting and what the 24-year-old victim told a police officer at the scene and hospital.

The defense claims Adams' statements are hearsay and their introduction into evidence during the murder trial violated Carruth's constitutional right to confront his accuser.

Carruth, a first-round draft pick of the Panthers out of Colorado, is serving a sentence of at least 18 years and 11 months at Nash Correctional Institution, about 55 miles northeast of Raleigh. He earns 40 cents a day as a janitor.

He appeared in court Thursday wearing a blue sport coat, beige pants and a striped tie, patting defense lawyer David Rudolf on the back as he came in. Carruth's mother Theodry Carruth, was in court for the hearing, as was Saundra Adams, mother of Cherica Adams.

Adams was eight months pregnant with Carruth's baby when she was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on Nov. 16, 1999, in south Charlotte. Doctors saved her son, Chancellor, in an emergency Caesarean. But Adams, shot four times, died a month later.

Born prematurely and in distress, Chancellor has cerebral palsy.

Carruth, now 30, was convicted in January 2001 of conspiring to murder Adams, shooting into her occupied vehicle and attempting to kill her unborn child. Jurors found him not guilty of a charge of first-degree murder that could have led to a death sentence.

The state Court of Appeals has denied Carruth a new trial and the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have refused to hear his case.

The issue in the appeal is the decision by the trial judge, Charles Lamm, to admit into evidence notes a dying Adams wrote from her hospital bed that implicated Carruth in the shooting.

The defense also is challenging Lamm's decision to impose the maximum sentence on Carruth. They argue that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision made it illegal for Lamm – and not jurors in the case – to determine that Carruth's sentence should be aggravated.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press