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Burden of Proof

Rae Curruth Charged in Girlfriend's Murder

Aired January 4, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICTOR O'KORN, FBI AGENT: They subsequently checked the room that they believed he was registered to. He was not located in that room, and then further investigation led the agents to the vehicle in the parking lot. And in the search of that vehicle, he was hiding in the trunk.

VILIAMI MAUMAU, CAROLINA PANTHERS DEFENSIVE TACKLE: I have known him as being a great guy, you know, nice, funny, always joking around, never sad.

THEODRY CARRUTH, MOTHER OF RAE CARRUTH: I want Cherica's family to know that I am not only here to support my son, but I am here for them also, and I want them to know that my family wants her family to know that we are still praying for them. They are very, very much in our prayers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Weeks ago he was a star receiver in the National Football League, but now Rae Carruth is behind bars for allegedly orchestrating the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. The baby born of that relationship is now six weeks old.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

A grand jury convened this morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. Prosecutors may seek the death penalty in the case against former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Carruth is accused of hatching a plot to murder his pregnant girlfriend in a drive-by shooting on November 16. Doctors performed an emergency caesarean section to save the baby, but shooting victim Cherica Adams died four weeks later. Three other men have been charged in the case, and Carruth maintains his innocence.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Charlotte, North Carolina is Bill Trifiro of WBT Radio. And here in Washington, Sadia Carone (ph), Maryland state prosecutor Doug Gansler and criminal defense attorney Bernie Grimm.

COSSACK: And in the back, Witold Chrabaszcz (ph), Barbara Zimmerman (ph) and Carol Docktor (ph).

But let's go right to Bill Trifiro.

Bill, take us back to the date of November 16 and tell us what the police are alleging happened?

BILL TRIFIRO, WBT RADIO: November the 16th what they're saying is essentially she was driving home after a late-night, earlier in the evening she was with Rae Carruth at a movie. And somewhere during that time along Ray Road, ironically, in south Charlotte, a car pulled up next to her, that car opened fire, she was shot four times, once through the neck, a couple times in the abdomen, and amazingly she managed to pull her car off to the side of the road, she dialed 911, and police were able to get to her relatively quickly. She also was honking the horn the entire time, which alerted the neighbors in that area. It is a residential area.

And at that time, they whisked her off to the hospital and, of course, as you said, they gave birth to little Chancellor Lee Adams by caesarean section. That child is now doing very well. He is home with Sandra Adams, who is Cherica's mother. And that is essentially what happened in a nut shell. Now who exactly pulled the trigger we don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, 911 calls in most jurisdictions are tape recorded. Is it tape recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina? If so, what did she say in that call?

TRIFIRO: It certainly is, the only thing that we were able to get is a 30 second excerpt because everything else had, I guess, crucial information and that was not part of the Freedom of Information Act. During that 30 minute excerpt, it basically said that she had been shot, gave a location, she told -- she seemed very distraught of course, and that was just about it.

There was just 30 seconds of her saying where she was, what had happened that she had been shot, and that she needed help.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you heard the 30-second one, or someone did, and you just recited it. What about in the part that hasn't been released to the public? Are you hearing that anyone is actually named on that 911 call?

TRIFIRO: Someone was named actually. A witness who was at the scene at the time, one of the neighbors as a matter of fact, was standing with police as she was talking to them in the car, they didn't want to move her right away.

That witness says that she told police that at first her husband, and she said no, no, no, my boyfriend is the person who shot me.

COSSACK: Bill, what do the police believe actually happened? IN other words, we heard that statement that perhaps she's implying that Carruth shot her. But what do they believe actually happened, in terms of the participants and what occurred?

TRIFIRO: Police are really keeping pretty tight-lipped on this. They're not really saying, they are not setting scenarios up for us. The scenarios that have been set up have been completely through lawyers in the case for the most part, except to say the police did actually paint the scenario that she had been out earlier in the evening and was driving home when this incident happened. Outside of that, they are keeping exceptionally quiet.

COSSACK: Any statement about what Carruth's motives might be in this situation?

TRIFIRO: James Axom (ph), the attorney for Michael Kennedy, he is one of the four men charged with first-degree murder has come out and said that it is his understanding that he didn't want this -- Carruth didn't want this child, and that perhaps there was some kind of struggle and strife around Chancellor Lee Adams.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any corroboration from any earlier history between the decedent and Rae Carruth to indicate that this was an unwanted pregnancy.?

TRIFIRO: Yes, there have been varying reports from different people throughout the community, people who were very close to him, that he wasn't exactly -- he was participating in the action, although he wasn't thrilled with it. He was -- According to his lawyers, he went to Lamaz classes with her, and was very supportive around her and to other people that he has talked to. He didn't want the child and perhaps there was some kind of strife around that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, she made a statement when she spoke 911, she was taken to the hospital. Did she -- Was she conscious at the hospital and did she make any statements then?

TRIFIRO: She was conscious for several days and police were able to question her on varying days, unfortunately some days she was well enough to talk, some days she was not. They talked to her several times. They would not tell us what she told them in the statements. But she did somehow manage to stay cognizant for several days before she slipped away, of course, into a coma.

COSSACK: Bill, there's been DNA tests taken. What have they shown?

TRIFIRO: Rae Carruth is the father. Which is what everybody kind of expected, and now is just finally 99.9 percent sure of.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, there seems to be at least maybe -- correct me if I'm wrong -- there is a little bit of a gap. On the night of November 16, they went to the movie, Rae Carruth and the decedent went to a movie, and then she was shot after the movie. Were they together continuously between the time they left the movie and the time of the shooting.

TRIFIRO: That, you know, that is actually a lot of depending on who talk to. The police did not go into that kind of detail. The only thing that they would say is they were with a couple earlier in the evening at that movie theater. Besides that, as far as the time frame, the reference, what we understand. is that she actually went home with Rae, they were there for a while, and she drove from Rae's house and was on her way home when the incident occurred.

VAN SUSTEREN: And are there actually eyewitnesses who place Rae Carruth in the vehicle in front of hers or not?

TRIFIRO: Nope, that's just a scenario that has painted that, according to lawyers and inside information that we've obtained at the police station. But no one will go on record to say that, nobody has painted that picture in any of these press conferences.

COSSACK: And Bill, has Rae Carruth made any statements whatsoever?

TRIFIRO: Rae Carruth has been as quiet as anything I've ever seen. He's, of course, been out in the public when he was caught in the trunk of a car. He had every opportunity to talk to police before he was even arrested, they wanted just to talk to him. He refused comment to everyone.

He has apparently told a neighbor that he didn't do it that we talked to. Outside of that, he has told his mother, of course, that he did not do it. But he's not talking to the press at least, and he is not talking to at least the officials at the Charlotte Police Department.

COSSACK: All right, up next, prosecutors performed a DNA paternity test to confirm that Carruth is this child's father. How will this affect their case? And find out how the defense is attempting to build a capital murder case, when we come back.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Brian Peterson, who served a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 1996 death of his infant son, left a Delaware prison today.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the Worldwide Web. Just log on to www.CNN.com and click your way to the BURDEN OF PROOF link. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via Video On-Demand.

COSSACK: A paternity test proved that Rae Carruth is the father of Chancellor Lee Adams, whose mother was killed in a drive-by shooting. Carruth has been charged for orchestrating the killing, and he's also embarking on a legal battle for custody of the infant child.

Doug, the DNA obviously proves that Rae Carruth is the father of that child. As a prosecutor, why is that an important fact?

DOUG GANSLER, MARYLAND STATE PROSECUTOR: It's an important fact, actually, for both sides, and both sides would try to use that to their advantage. For Rae Carruth, he will say, this is my own child, this is a good thing for Rae Carruth, because why would I go out of my way to attempt to kill my own child, and -- which is ridiculous, because we know that people kill their own children for a variety of reasons.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, wait a second, Doug, and the flip side of that, of course, if you're the defense lawyer, I mean, it also...

GANSLER: Sets up the motive.

VAN SUSTEREN: It sets up the motive if you have -- for the prosecution.

GANSLER: Well, exactly, and the question's always going to be, particularly in front of the jury, why would an NFL star, a guy who has all these things going for him, why would he attempt to kill this woman, why would he ruin all that? Well, the obvious -- it does, it sets up the exact motive, the motive being he wants this child not to be born. Apparently there are reports that he asked her to have an abortion and so forth. He already is paying child support to one child. Rae Carruth was apparently in financial difficulty and didn't want to pay support to another child.

COSSACK: And one of the issues for a capital crime in North Carolina is profit -- murder for profit, and one could, I suppose, if you're the prosecutor then argue that in fact by doing this he eliminates the need to have to pay child support.

GANSLER: Yes, I mean, it's certainly the strongest -- the best thing about the fact that this was his child is it sets up the motive. In terms of the death penalty aspects, it's also important for three reasons. One, it's a murder-for-hire case, which is a pre -- statutory prerequisite for the death penalty. Two, you have an aggravated situation here; not only did he kill one person, but since it was his child, he can now not argue -- he can't argue this, I didn't know she was pregnant. In fact, he was trying to kill two people.

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh but wait a second, but then you -- but then you've got -- let me go to you, Bernie, on this -- in North Carolina, it said...

BERNARD GRIMM, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: In North Carolina...

VAN SUSTEREN: Does not recognize the fetus as a...

GRIMM: ... the fetus is not recognized as a child.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does that -- does that....

GRIMM: ... surprising of all places, because on Sunday, I've been down there when I've been on trial and the streets are empty, Sunday mornings. Of course, I know that because I'm on my way to service myself. But the fetus isn't recognized as a person. So, that's a problem for death penalty.

The third reason that I think Doug was going to raise is that the murder was -- she was left lingering, and that's usually reserved for torture cases, where you keep actually someone alive and torture them. So, that's not this case.

VAN SUSTEREN: Doug, let me ask you about the thing that Bernie just referred to, is that in order -- one of the criteria in North Carolina for a death penalty eligible is a multiple murder and how -- and if you killed -- and the fetus, obviously -- I mean, the child lived, so you don't have the multiple murder, you simply have the mother. Is that something, though -- I mean, even in terms of charging other aspects, do you want to charge some sort of assault and battery on the fetus or is that a matter that the prosecution should just leave alone, prosecute what you have?

GANSLER: There's a couple of things. You could try and test that. You, the prosecutor, might say that that law should not be, this is not just a fetus, this is a real human being, because, look, this child is doing well. And so you may charge it in addition. If you lose that on appeal, it's OK because you have the rest of the case.

But the other important point about the fetus, whether you consider it a child or not, is the prosecutor has the discretion whether or not to bring the death penalty. It's not available in all cases, it's only available in first-degree murder cases, and it's only available when there's aggravating circumstances. Here, you look at what this person did, what did Rae Carruth do: He killed his girlfriend and attempted to kill his own blood, his own child. And if you're trying to figure out how dangerous of a person this is, is this person meritorious of the death penalty, that certainly is a factor.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Bernie, you hear these statements by Doug, and it sounds, I mean, like fighting words, almost. I mean, these are horrible words for a jury to hear, these accusations. What do you -- what do you do as a defense attorney?

GRIMM: Well, in a case like this. the accusation is the 99 percent of your problem. When you're in a courtroom, and a jury panel is called, and a prosecutor says this is a case about Mr. Carruth, who one day is catching touchdown passes, the next day he's murdering his girlfriend and his unborn child, the accusation puts you in a hole so deep that you might not be able to climb out of. But what you need to do is ask a jury to separate out who he was trying to kill and that -- try this as a straight homicide case.

COSSACK: Doug, in light of the fact that apparently there's no eyewitness to this, you may have to, if you're a prosecutor, be talking to the co-defendants in this case. Would you be offering them some kind of a plea bargain?

GANSLER: It depends. It depends on who you feel is more culpable in this case. Apparently, the co-defendants had long records, and they're going to have their own problems. We also really don't know at this point, because it's at the indictment stage, what the nature of the evidence is, what the state of the evidence is.

But you would certainly want to speak with the co-defendants, and apparently that's part of the strength of the prosecution case, their own statements and what is their incentive to all three of them, separately, pin the case on Rae Carruth. But you certainly would want to, as the prosecution, go out and corroborate their statements to the best extent possible, including cell phone records and other types of things.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, speaking of cell phone records, what's the evidence that we're hearing about cell phone records?

TRIFIRO: Cell phone records have been obtained by the Charlotte- Mecklenburg Police Department. They are not disclosing that information. They did that relatively quickly. They also, however, bring in the FBI to analyze those records and perhaps to help them out, and ironically, when they actually brought in the FBI to help in both the cell phone area and some of the processing and even a little bit mild of profiling, they also made an arrest just a couple of days after the FBI came in. So, perhaps there was more to the telephone records.

Of course, they didn't release that, so we're interested, we're looking into that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we need to take a break.

One of the most important initial courtroom battles between prosecutors and the defense will take place during jury selection. As we've seen in similar high-profile trials, it could win or lose a case.

But first, one other update: We discussed this story last week on a program focusing on terrorism. A task force led by the Fresno County Sheriff's Department has arrested five suspects in the theft of hundreds of pounds of explosives. Four of the suspects are 18 years old, the fifth is a juvenile. None of the suspects is believed to have any ties to any militia groups.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Which of the following is NOT an actual new law that took effect 1/1/2000:

A. NY children who ride horses must wear helmets.

B. Cats in RI must wear ID tags like dogs do.

C. NC mechanics must give a written estimate, and cannot charge more than 10 percent more.

A: All of these are new laws. (END Q&A)

VAN SUSTEREN: One of the initial pretrial skirmishes will have a tremendous impact in the case against former pro football player Rae Carruth. The selection of a jury, as seen in other cases of high- profile defendants, could tilt the scales one way or the other.

Bernie, I suspect that virtually everybody who's heard of the Rae Carruth case, the first thing they think of is O.J. Simpson. You have allegation of murder, you have a football player. What does a defense attorney do if anything about that going into jury selection?

GRIMM: Well, jury selection out in Los Angeles and in Charlotte are completely different. In Charlotte, you are going to get a much more conservative group of possible jurors, than you would in Simpson. In Simpson, you had people that wanted to be on -- I think wanted to be on the jury. In Carruth, I don't think people are going to want to be on this, unless they are going to people that want to convict. It's a fairly conservative area of the state.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you do? I mean, you've got the problem, i mean going into the jury selection you can't ignore the fact the O.J. Simpson case occurred. You can't ignore the similarities. I mean, the jury is going to be thinking a little bit about it. Do you do anything with it?

GRIMM: No, I mean, you turn it absolutely around. You milk Carruth for everything that he was, the work he did on the football team that was popular, if you think that's a good thing. The work he did in the community. The fact that he went to Lamaz classes with his girlfriend. You will bring other football players in to testify as character witnesses for him. So there is a lot you can do with his celebrityism.

COSSACK: Bill, oftentimes in murder cases it ends up that the victim goes on trial. What do we know about Cherica Adams?

TRIFIRO: Cherica Adams had more jobs than I have socks, but essentially she worked in real estate, she worked in banking, and as of recently we have learned that she was also a topless dancer at two bars in the area.

VAN SUSTEREN: Doug, what do you do with that? Should a topless dancer, I mean, you know in all these cases oftentimes the victim legitimately, lawfully goes on trial to see what kind of connection she might have with other who might want to kill her. She might meet an unsavory type of a person in a stripper joint. What do you do with it as a prosecutor?

GANSLER: I think you try and take away all of the sort of personalities and side shows in the case. I mean, the defense lawyers have already said, going back to your question of Bernie, they don't want to change the venue in the case, they want the case in Charlotte because not many people have heard of Rae Carruth until this case outside of Charlotte, but he's a national hero there. From the prosecutors, you want to take that out, you want to really make this different than O.J.

At the same time, on the strip dancer-type thing, you want to say: Look, she did whatever she did. She had a wonderful life. You are going to bring in people that are going to talk about how wonderful she was. But the defense is not going to be able to get over the hurdle that whether she was a strip dancer or not, she had a child.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bernie, what are you going to do with the stripper aspect of it? Is that something, as a defense attorney, that is going to be part of this trial?

GRIMM: Yes, you need to jump into that. In the strip club world, not that I know from personal experience but I hear...

COSSACK: On the way to services on Sunday morning.

GRIMM: That's right, there you go. But there is a whole underworld going on there, and you need to get in there and investigate that. There is other people in that underworld that may have a motive to have wanted to kill her.

COSSACK: And now you got investigate it. How do you do that? What do you do? And how do you get that kind of information in front of the jury? I'm the prosecutor, I am -- Doug would do the same thing, he's objecting, he is having pretrial motions, he is says: I don't want to hear this stuff, judge. What do you tell the judge?

GRIMM: Well, obviously, the case law in most jurisdictions is that you can name another third perpetrator, which is someone not charged who committed the crime, and you can connect them to the scene, and that's going to be admitted. But that is something you are going to need to really develop.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, tell me what the pulse of the community is in terms of this case. Is the thought that this man's going to get a fair trial and that people will presume his innocent?

TRIFIRO: You know, it's surprising to me because I'm relatively new in this market. But I'll tell you, the community that we've talked to thinks that he's going to get a fair shot. But at the same time, they think he's pretty guilty. So it's strange. Apparently, Charlotte, and we've had several high-profile cases, Jim Baker, Charlotte has been known for giving fair trials, and at the same time though, you have got a lot of opinions floating around here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bernie, how do you reconcile that? They say that they think he is guilty, but they can give him a fair trial. How do you reconcile that?

GRIMM: Well, it is interesting, I don't know how someone like that can get on a jury, they want to give him a fair trial but they think he's guilty. If they think he's guilty, they don't belong in the possible jury pool.

COSSACK: Doug, don't you just cure that by looking at him and saying, but you are going to put that all aside and just listen to the evidence.

GANSLER: Of course they think he's guilty. In the general community, the prosecution is not going to go out and take a star football player on the local football and accuse him of murder unless they're pretty sure that he has committed that crime.

But then, yes, you ask the question, you think he's guilty, he has been charged, you know that doesn't matter, you need to sit there and assess all the evidence, can you do that? And if the juror says they can do that and they will do that, then they can sit on the jury pool.

COSSACK: OK, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Paula Jones will be a guest on today's "TALKBACK LIVE." She'll discuss how changing her appearance has changed her image. Will it work for Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp? That's today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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