Former Panthers WR Rae Carruth Released from Jail after 17 Years

Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth is a free man again 17 years after being convicted following the death of his then girlfriend Cherica Adams.

Carruth was released at 8:02 a.m. ET on Monday from Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina.

Adams was only 24 when Van Brett Watkins shot her four times on 16 November, 1999 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

On the night of the incident she called 911 to tell the police that Carruth had stopped his car in front of her as they returned from a night out at the movies, allowing Watkins and two other accomplices to pull up alongside her and shoot her through the driver's side window of her BMW.

Adams, who was also eight months pregnant, survived long enough to undergo a C-section to save her son, who had miraculously survived the shooting in her womb. Adams died a month after the shooting from her injuries and while her son, Chancellor Lee, survived, a loss of blood and oxygen the night of his birth left him with irreparable brain damage and cerebral palsy.

Carruth, who was selected by the Panthers as the 27th overall pick of the 1997 draft, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder after the shooting.

At the time, he was the first NFL player to be charged and convicted of such a crime. The former Colorado student fled after Adams died before FBI agents found him hiding in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of a hotel in Tennessee.

He eventually avoided a first-degree murder conviction, which could have even carried the death penalty, but was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child.

On Sunday, Carruth told ABC-affiliated WSOC-TV that he was looking forward to reshape his life outside prison.

"I'm excited about just being out of here. I'm nervous just about how I'll be received by the public," he was quoted as saying.

"I still have to work. I still have to live. I have to exist out there and it just seems like there is so much hate and negativity toward me. I'm actually somewhat frightened."

In February this year, Carruth apologize for the death of Adams in a letter to her mother, Saundra, via an interview he gave to CBS-affiliated WBTV.

I'm apologizing for the loss of her daughter," Carruth was quoted as saying at the time about Adams' mother. "I'm apologizing for the impairment of my son. I feel responsible for everything that happened. And I just want her to know that truly I am sorry for everything.

"If I could change anything, I'd change the whole situation. His mother would still be here and I wouldn't be where I'm at. So that's what I'd want to change. I want the incident to never have happened at all."

Adams' mother has served as caretaker for her late daughter's son and has repeatedly insisted Carruth, who has met his son just twice in his life, will not get custody, despite his repeated pleas.

"I've forgiven Rae already, but to have any type of relationship with him, there does have to be some repentance," Adams was quoted as saying by The Charlotte Observer in February.

"And I think this opens the door. But I can say definitively he's not ever going to have custody of Chancellor. Chancellor will be raised either by me or, after I'm gone, by someone else who loves him and who knows him. He will never be raised by a stranger—someone he doesn't know and who tried to kill him."