CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Twelve days ago, I sat nervously in the conference room at WBTV waiting for the phone to ring. It was a Saturday. I was told Rae Carruth would be calling me from prison after he finished his shift as a barber at the Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina. I didn't know what to expect.
Working in Charlotte you know Carruth's name. I wasn't living here when the story broke, but I remember hearing about it. Everyone heard about it. It was the ultimate fall from grace. A talented young NFL star who'd conspired to kill the mother of his unborn child. The storyline could have easily been stolen from a Hollywood movie.
But it wasn't. A young and beautiful Cherica Adams was dead and her baby boy was born prematurely with cerebral palsy. Cherica's mother, Saundra, would quickly become the face of Carruth's story as the fearless and strong Grandmother who put raising her grandson, Chancellor, above everything else.
All of this swirled through my mind as I waited for Carruth's call. But the reporter in me tried to have an open mind. I think that's why he finally agreed to let me record our conversation.
We talked on the record for about 15 minutes. He told me about his regrets and explained how he was a different man. He apologized to Saundra for the loss of her daughter and the impairment of her grandson. He said he took full responsibility for that night. And while he refused to speak about the specifics, he said he wished it had never happened.
That was Saturday afternoon. We published the story just before 11 am on Monday and the feedback was swift. As fast as people were retweeting the story, they were also responding. Some praised the work by calling Carruth's interview the biggest "get" in Charlotte in a long time. While others, a lot of others, slammed me for giving Carruth the opportunity to speak out. Man, if I had a dollar for every "shame on you" tweet I got last week... I finally turned off my notifications.
But that's journalism. You get into this business knowing you'll get a lot more criticism than praise. You learn to shrug it off and move on to the next story people won't "like" because a story isn't a story solely because someone likes and agrees with it.
Our piece was picked up by nearly every national sports outlet. Carruth's conversation with me has been dissected over and over again on social media and talk radio. Some argued taking responsibility wasn't enough. Some latched onto the word "custody" implying Carruth wanted to take Chancellor away from his grandmother. None of those people talked to him on the phone. I did. And Rae Carruth never said anything of the sort. Instead, he said that he'd like to one day be considered as a "viable option" to care for Chancellor once she's gone.
Rae Carruth didn't expect his words to be welcomed with open arms. In fact, in the letter, he wrote: "I long ago accepted my lot as a social pariah". But while I was ingesting the criticism, so was Carruth. He doesn't have access to the internet in prison, but family and friends read coverage to him over the phone. One comment suggesting Carruth wants to be alone with Chancellor so "he can finish the job" stung worse than the others for him.
Carruth sat down and penned another letter, this time sending it to Scott Fowler at the Charlotte Observer, expressing a change of heart. He wrote "I will no longer be pursuing a relationship with Chancellor and Ms. Adams. I promise to leave them be, which I now see is in everyone's best interest".
While she quickly rejected the chance of Carruth ever getting full custody, Saundra Adams has long expressed her willingness to allow Carruth to be a part of Chancellor's life upon his release. Last week, she said she'd been waiting to hear Carruth apologize for nearly two decades. And yet, public opinion has quite possibly closed that door forever.
I've been asked many times if I felt like Carruth's words were sincere. Of course, I have a personal opinion. I'm a human being. But I gave up my right to share that when I became a journalist. All I can say is that I hope Carruth is being honest when he says he's a changed man. It's not my job to judge someone's heart or intentions. But for Chancellor's sake, I hope he's sincere, even now after the chance of a relationship is gone. Seventeen years is a long time to sit and reflect and I hope it wasn't wasted.