CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - In just two days time, former Carolina Panthers player Rae Carruth will be released from prison.
In 2001 he was convicted on charges related to his pregnant girlfriend’s death in 2001 and has been in prison ever since.
However, his sentence was much shorter than it would have been had he been found guilty of first degree murder.
The jury on the Carruth trial deliberated for about 20 hours.
Their final decision was to find Carruth guilty of discharging a firearm into occupied property, using an instrument with intent to destroy an unborn child and conspiracy to commit murder of Cherica Adams.
The foreman on that jury, Clark Pennell, remembers announcing the jury’s decision.
"When it was announced he [Carruth] was not guilty of first degree, both of his attorneys put their arms around him and hugged him,” said Pennell.
He watched the reactions of the Adam’s family as they absorbed the decision the jury made.
Carruth did not pull the trigger to kill Cherica Adams.
He hired Van Brett Watkins to do it.
"Van Brett Watkins will be in my memory forever,” said Pennell.
Pennell describes Watkins as unlike anyone he had ever encountered before, using the words “intimidating, reckless and scary” to describe him.
Gentry Caudill was the prosecutor on the case and remembers Watkins making threats while being questioned on the stand.
“Watkins said he would snap his neck like a twig,” said Caudill.
Watkins accepted a 2nd degree murder plea deal.
Carruth turned down the plea deal, so the jury had to deliberate on if they should charge him with first degree murder.
One of the most gripping pieces of evidence was from Adam’s 911 call.
“She’s obviously in great pain and trying to save her life and that of her unborn child,” said Caudill.
Pennell recalled that as the tape played, all of the jurors were spellbound.
The charges they found Carruth guilty of resulted in his incarceration for the years since.
"I have no regrets about the verdict we came up with,” said Pennell.
That verdict, 18 years later, means that Carruth will walk away from prison a free man on Monday.
Pennell says he has peace that justice has been served with Carruth’s time spent in prison.