Rae Carruth: Murder and Almost a Lifetime in Prison

In last week’s stirring tale of the Old West, we saw the Dalton Gang’s bid for fame go horribly wrong. This week, we meet Rae Carruth, formerly a promising football player who spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder.

Rae Carruth

Rae Theotis Carruth was born Rae Lamar Wiggins on January 20, 1974 in Sacramento, California. When he graduated from Valley High School, the University of Colorado offered him a football scholarship. He played four seasons as a wide receiver for the Buffaloes. He made first team All-American in 1996 while completing a degree in English.

Rae Carruth in his playing days
Rae Carruth in his playing days

Carruth’s college football career was impressive enough to earn a first-round pick in the 1997 NFL draft. The Carolina Panthers chose him as the 27th overall pick. The team offered him a $3.7 million deal with a $1.3 million signing bonus.

The Murder of Cherica Adams

Rae Carruth and Cherica Adams went to the movies Monday night, November 15, 1999. According to some, Adams was Carruth’s girlfriend, although he later claimed they had merely “hooked up” a few times. Regardless, Adams, a real estate agent, was eight months pregnant with Carruth’s child.

Leaving the theater, they each got into their own cars and drove to Adams’ home. Shortly after 12:30 a.m., a car pulled alongside Adams and shot her four times. She was able to call 911 and indicated that Rae Carruth was involved in the shooting. Her story was that Carruth had slowed or stopped his car in front of hers. This boxed her in as the car with the shooter positioned itself beside her. When the shooting was over, Carruth drove away. He was gone when paramedics arrived.

Cherica Adams
Cherica Adams

Shortly after arriving at a hospital, Cherica Adams slipped into a coma. Doctors used an emergency caesarian section to deliver her son. But the baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, had suffered permanent brain damage and had cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen. Adams herself never regained consciousness and died on December 14.

Rae Carruth Eventually Faces the Consequences

After the shooting, Rae Carruth posted a $3 million bond. There was a condition: he would turn himself in if either Adams or the child died. However, when Adams did die on December 14, Carruth did not turn himself in. Instead, he ran, but police captured him a day later in the West Tennessee town of Parkers Crossroads. He was hiding in the trunk of his car in the parking lot of a Best Western motel.

The following day, December 16, the Carolina Panthers waived Carruth citing a morals clause in his contract. The day after that, the NFL suspended him indefinitely. But Rae Carruth had bigger problems than his football career. He was going on trial for murder.

A jury found Carruth guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle, and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child. They did not find him guilty of first-degree murder, sparing him a shot at the death penalty. He was sentenced to 18-24 years in prison. The actual shooter, Van Brett Watkins, Sr., received a sentence of a minimum of 40 years and 8 months.

Rae Carruth leaving prison, October 2018
Rae Carruth leaving prison, October 2018


Rae Carruth served 18 years and was released in October 2018. Maybe it wasn’t a lifetime, but he missed his son’s growing up years. While in prison, he earned his certification as a barber. He later reached out to Adams’ mother, who raised his son, Chancellor.

Chancellor Lee Adams, son of Rae Carruth
Chancellor Lee Adams

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