SAMPSON COUNTY, N.C. — Rae Carruth is a free man.
The former Carolina Panther was released from prison Monday morning, after serving nearly 19 years for orchestrating the murder of his pregnant girlfriend.
Channel 9 was there as he was released at 8:01 a.m. from Sampson Correctional Facility in Clinton, North Carolina.
The 1997 first-round draft pick was released after completing his sentence of 18 to 24 years.
Carruth did not speak to reporters as he left the prison wearing a knit cap and an unzipped jacket on a chilly morning with temperatures in the high 30s. There was a smattering of applause as Carruth got into a white SUV and was whisked away from the prison.
A source close to Carruth told Channel 9 that he was picked up from prison by a family member.
When he left prison, Carruth was given a copy of his release papers, his social security card, birth certificate, community resources information, and a pharmacy discount card.
Carruth was also given certificates for the programs he completed while locked up, including a registered examiners' card from the North Carolina Board of Barbers and a barber's certificate from Central Carolina Community College.
Carruth, now 44, was found guilty of orchestrating a plot to kill Cherica Adams on Nov. 16, 1999, in Charlotte, to avoid paying child support. Adams was shot four times while driving her car, but managed to make a 911 call that helped implicate Carruth.
Adams fell into a coma and died less than a month later after the shooting.
The child she was carrying, Chancellor Lee Adams, was delivered by emergency cesarean section but suffers from permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy.
Despite his high-profile case, officials said Carruth will not be given any special privileges and will be treated like any other released inmate.
Last week, he told Channel 9 anchor Erica Bryant in a telephone interview, "I just truly want to be forgiven."
Carruth went on to say he was "somewhat frightened" about his release, adding that "I'm nervous just about how I'll be received by the public. 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."
Carruth has repeatedly said he wants to have a relationship with his son, who remains in the custody of his grandmother, Saundra Adams, who has raised him since birth. Adams had previously said she would be there when Carruth got out of prison, but she was not present on Monday.
Carruth's arrest on charges of conspiracy and attempted murder nine days after the shooting sent shockwaves throughout the Panthers organization.
The team released Carruth and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after he fled the Charlotte area after posting $3 million bail and was found by federal authorities hiding in the trunk of a car in Tennessee, about 500 miles from Charlotte.
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Panthers center Frank Garcia, who was teammates with Carruth for more than two seasons, said players were stunned when they heard the news of Carruth's possible involvement in the murder, about 20 miles from the team's downtown stadium in the affluent section of South Charlotte.
"It would be like finding out the guy sitting in the cubicle next to you at work was arrested for murder," Garcia said. "You just don't always know people as well as you think you do."
Garcia said Carruth was a little shy, and mostly kept to himself. But he said Carruth had a passion for helping kids, including reading books to elementary school students.
It was a difficult time in Panthers history.
Some players were called out of football practice to testify at the trial. Those not involved would spend time huddling in the players' lounge watching the trial on Court TV.
WATCH CHANNEL 9'S PRIMETIME SPECIAL ON THIS STORY:
- LIFE AFTER DEATH: Rae Carruth and The Son Who Survived, the investigation and the crime
- LIFE AFTER DEATH: Rae Carruth and The Son Who Survived, Chancellor Lee Adams
- LIFE AFTER DEATH: Rae Carruth and the Son Who Survived, the trial
- LIFE AFTER DEATH: Rae Carruth and the Son Who Survived, prison phone call
- LIFE AFTER DEATH: Rae Carruth and The Son Who Survived, the next chapter
"That is one time where you were actually hiding from the cameras," Garcia said. "You just wanted to stay low and not be involved. All along you're asking yourself, 'Did I miss any signs? How is somebody capable of this?'"
>> Remember, you can watch our Carruth special programming anytime at home on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV .
While in jail Carruth worked as a barber, making about $1 per hour, according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman Jerry Higgins.
That's a far cry from the four-year, $3.7 million contract Carruth signed with the Panthers after being drafted -- although he never collected all of that money since he was released in the third year of his deal.
Carruth's future is uncertain.
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He was taken to an undisclosed location after his release.
He will be on a nine-month post-release program, according to Higgins. He would need special permission from a case officer to leave his "designated state" or the country during that span, but is free to go wherever he pleases after nine months.
It was not revealed which state was Carruth's designated state.
Carruth hasn’t said what he plans to do next, but if he decides to write a book or sell his story, state law says he could be required to give some or all of the proceeds to a victim’s compensation fund.
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