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Burden of Proof

Pro Football Player Rae Carruth Goes on Trial for Murder of Pregnant Girlfriend

Aired October 23, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Pro football player Rae Carruth goes on trial for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. Did Carruth arrange for the shooting of Cherica Adams? And if convicted, he could face the death penalty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER MUNSON, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED" LEGAL ANALYST: Here is a guy who had five different girlfriends going at any one time. He's a bit of a womanizer. This whole idea of Rae Carruth, the lady killer, is a very difficult concept for his lawyers to counteract.

DAVID RUDOLF, CARRUTH'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't think it's a womanizing image. He's a young man, single, and he dated a number of different women. And I don't think he's any different in that regard than other men his age in his circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Today in Charlotte, North Carolina, jury selection begins in the murder trial of former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth. Last November, his girlfriend, at the time seven months pregnant with his child, was shot four times while sitting in her car.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Now, Cherica Adams was rushed to the emergency room, where the baby was delivered by Caesarean section. After the birth, the mother fought for her life, but died a month later.

VAN SUSTEREN: Carruth is accused of master-minding the shooting of Adams, allegedly to avoid paying child support. A co-defendant has agreed to testify against him.

Joining us today from Raleigh, North Carolina, is Wake County district attorney Colin Willoughby.

COSSACK: And in New York, we're joined by criminal defense attorney Barry Scheck. In Atlanta, criminal defense attorney Ed Garland, who defended pro football player Ray Lewis.

VAN SUSTEREN: And here in Washington, we're joined by Leah hall (ph), former Maryland state prosecutor Robert Bonsib, and Anita Pantankar (ph). And in the back row, Matt Pillsbury (ph) and Erin Houston (ph). And also joining us from outside the Charlotte courthouse is CNNsi correspondent Nick Charles.

Nick, first to you. What's going on inside the courtroom this morning?

NICK CHARLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, assistant district attorney Gentry Caudell (ph) is interviewing perspective jurors. Fifty from the jury pool were brought in. Eleven were excused for personal and professional reasons. One of the interesting things I saw, Greta, is -- this is a quote/unquote celebrity trial. So, sometimes that would work, would help the defense in that there's some hero worship involved. They asked the first 12 prospective jurors, Caudell did, if, in fact they had ever heard of Rae Carruth as a football player before the crime last November. Only two of the 12 said they had. So, as far as his sweeping appeal, and his sweeping popularity in terms of a well-known celebrity, it seems to be nonexistent.

But that's the process right now, as they're about to break for lunch, there are several in the jury pool, of course, who have been excused, as we said. A lot of obstacles here that the defense has to clear. This spoiled athlete image that some say Carruth may have. There's a 911 call that defense attorney David Rudolph talked about, saying they've really got to play this out because Cherica Adams on the 911 call did say, meaning Carruth, he did it. So, there are several things.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nick, Is there any physical evidence, like cell phone records or anything to connect Rae Carruth with the men who were in the second car that apparently was where the shots were fired from?

CHARLES: Reportedly there are, Greta. There are several things, though. Last week, the defense filed a motion trying to put a complete new twist on this and it was artfully done in terms of timing. They are looking at this as an aborted drug buy, and that's the reason for the crime, because one of the co-defendants, William Watkins, the triggerman, has already admitted to a county sheriff that he shot Cherica Adams. But they are trying to spin it that way rather than some masterminded plot by Rae Carruth to kill his girlfriend.

COSSACK: All right, let's go to Barry Scheck.

Now, Barry, you've been in high-profile cases. Now they are picking a jury and there's a camera in that courtroom. What do you think it has any affect, whatsoever on how you pick this jury?

BARRY SCHECK, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well. I hope that the camera in the courtroom is not looking at the jurors. Sure it does. I mean, obviously you have to combat the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity, of which there was a lot. But I should just note, what Nick Charles said, is that it is more than just a different spin. The motion that the defense filed on Monday is quite extraordinary.

Apparently, the shooter in this case, Walker, said to a prison guard, who's, you know, totally independent person, that when he committed the shooting, he did it because he was involved in a drug deal that Carruth wouldn't front the money for. He was angry at Carruth and that the victim in this case, Cherica Adams, had made an obscene gesture to him when he was pulling her car over in order to find out where Carruth was going. And he, in a fit of anger, shot her and he apparently has a mental history that might support that kind of thing. So, that was really quite a bombshell. And I'm just wondering if the jurors have expressed any knowledge of the press reports from the last few days.

COSSACK: Colin, let me go back to the original question. From a prosecutor's standpoint, Colin, the notion of having a camera in the courtroom in a celebrity trial: Does it make the process of jury selection more difficult?

COLIN WILLOUGHBY, WAKE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, I think it probably makes the entire trial more difficult because you have to be so careful with everything that you do, and things that might be just normal things that you would speak to a judge or opposing counsel about, all take on a new added significance.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me go to Atlanta to Ed Garland.

Ed, you successfully represented Ray Lewis, another football player, and there were cameras in that courtroom. What advice do you have for the defense team as they go into this jury selection?

ED GARLAND, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think that the camera in the courtroom does have a major impact. Some of the impacts are that witnesses watch what goes on in the courtroom, so the judge needs to take extra precautions about counseling witnesses that they may not watch the television. And even then you have problems. You also have problems of jurors themselves watching the news coverage or their family members. So, it creates a lot of need for a very in- depth examination of these jurors.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nick, let me ask you about that question Ed raised about the fact that potential witnesses can watch the trial. I know that two of the other defendants, co-defendants Eugene Kennedy and Stanley "Boss" Abraham are incarcerated in a facility where there are cameras,

Has there been any precaution taken as it relates to them.

CHARLES: That's a great point you raise. In fact, there was, the prosecution also announced that it is adding William Kennedy -- or Michael Kennedy -- and Stanley Abraham as potential witnesses, but they also don't want them to have access to any court proceedings that are televised while they are in jail. They don't want them sitting in their cells and forming opinions, if, in fact, they are going to testify for the prosecution. So, the defense is very concerned about that and sure to make a point of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nick, what is the connection between the four defendants, if any? I mean, we've got Carruth, Watkins, Kennedy and Abraham. How do they relate to each other in any way? CHARLES: Well, Watkins is 44 years old, and he was an odd-job man. He detailed Rae Carruth's car and such and the what defense is saying is that he was also a person who was involved with drugs, and had offered a drug buy. And William Kennedy was a friend call him -- I should say Michael Kennedy an acquaintance of Rae Carruth. Stanley Abraham, according to some, was sort of a guy caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he's in jail nonetheless. Watkins, again, has already committed -- has already plea bargained his way to a second-degree murder crime. And, incidentally, the prosecution -- or the defense had asked that there be no murder -- that the charges be reduced against Rae Carruth to second-degree murder also, because the known triggerman in this case who has already admitted to pulling the trigger, can only get second-degree murder, which carries a 50- year maximum sentence in jail.

COSSACK: All right, Nick Charles, thanks for joining us today from Charlotte.

Up next, a co-defendant in this case claimed that Rae Carruth paid him to kill Cherica Adams, but the Carruth defense says he told a different story to a jailhouse guard. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to cnn.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

COSSACK: Today in Charlotte, North Carolina, jury selection began in the murder trial of former pro football player Rae Carruth. One of his co-defendants has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and has agreed to testify against Carruth. But the Carruth defense filed a motion last week, claiming that a witness told a different version of his story to a jail guard.

Let me go to our prosecutors for a second. Colon, you have the prosecution's star witness who initially said this is what happened; yes, I pulled the trigger, I am making a deal with you, I am going to escape the death penalty, and I did this because Rae Carruth involved me into it, and either paid me, or told me to do it.

Now he changes his story completely. What do you do?

WILLOUGHBY: Well, you have to put the evidence before the jury, and let the jury weigh it, and look at things that corroborate it or impeach it.

COSSACK: But I mean, aren't you in the position now of saying to a jury: Believe the good part of the story that I like, and he is a liar about that other part, so you can just eliminate that, but believe the other part. How do you argue that to a jury?

WILLOUGHBY: Well, with these particular kinds of cases, where you have co-defendants testifying, their testimony is always scrutinized closely, and it is difficult because there are usually people that have, you know, bad reputations or have done bad acts. So, as a prosecutor, you have to sort of accept them, warts and all, and proceed on.

COSSACK: Bob, let me just follow up with you. I mean, you are in that horrible position of having to say to the jury: Believe the good part, but disbelieve the bad part that doesn't help me.

ROBERT BONSIB, FORMER MARYLAND STATE PROSECUTOR: It is tough, and it is even tougher here because when a jury looks at law enforcement officers, they expect them to be on the prosecution's side. And corroborating witness, to show that your star witness has changed his story is going to be a deputy. And how is the prosecutor, on the one hand, going to be offering law enforcement as the credible witnesses. And then, having to flip around, and challenge this deputy's integrity, or his basis of knowledge, or how he came about this information. I think it is a very difficult problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me go now to our two defense attorneys. Let me start with you, Barry. When the Rae Carruth was on bond, and when they issued the warrant after she died, he was hidden in a trunk, and it appeared that he was hiding from the police because he knew that he was wanted.

SCHECK: No question he was hiding from police.

VAN SUSTEREN: I tell you, I think that that fact, if it comes in at trial, is the single most important fact in the jury selection, in terms of some people in this country would understand why an African- American might flee, an innocent African-American might flee, and some jurors would think that flight under any circumstance means you are guilty. What does a defense attorney do with that in jury selection, and how fatal could that be to the trial?

SCHECK: Well, I think actually it is not going to be that big a deal because I think that the record is clear that Mr. Carruth said, when he fled to a number of independent people, that he became extremely distressed when she died, saying my best witness has now died, that he was hopeful she would recover and clarify what were ambiguous statements and, you know, help in his defense.

But one point I would like to get back to here, what people seem to be losing track of about this defense motion about the prison guard, is that this is an independent statement. I would expect that this motion being filed now, one of the advantages, one of the few advantages I can see of a publicized or a televised trial is that now other people may come forward with evidence about Walker, about drugs, and frankly the prosecution is now got to look and see what other evidence they have that may corroborate this story, because...

VAN SUSTEREN: Unless you've got...

SCHECK: ... this prison guard is pretty powerful stuff.

VAN SUSTEREN: Unless, of course, you've got the problem. Barry, you know, where you have got someone who pled guilty to something, and suddenly is sitting around jail and realizes that he's become, quote, "a snitch," and he is sitting in jail, and he thinks he better figure out some way to make it all his fault, which is the problem that I think, at least if I were the defense attorney, I would worry the prosecution would approach it by.

SCHECK: Well, you know, they've got to come up with anything now, it is clear, that shows that Walker was involved in a drug deal, or drug deals. Any knowledge they have of that.

I've got a feeling that, if there's some truth to this defense, then some of that stuff may very well come forward. It certainly happens in cases like that. It is one of the advantages of a televised trial.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ed, let me go back to you on the issue of Rae Carruth hiding in the trunk of the car upon his arrest. As a defense attorney, do you see that as problematic as I do? And Barry suggests that there might be an explanation that satisfies a jury.

ED GARLAND, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think you can explain that, I agree with Barry, it's going to be something the prosecution hangs its hat on. I think this case is going to go beyond that, though, and will really turn into an attack upon this witness, who is telling one story, and then another.

Apparently, he has mental problems, apparently he was a drug dealer, apparently he may have sold or been involved in the sales of drugs, or use of drugs. And if that is true, he has more than a wart on him, he's bleeding.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right.

COSSACK: Colon, you know, it seems to me that there couldn't have been surprise to the prosecution about this statement that allegedly Watkins now makes, regarding how this all happened. I mean, after all, the initial statement was made to a prison guard, wouldn't the prison guard immediately turn it over to the prosecution?

WILLOUGHBY: Are you asking me?

COSSACK: Yes, Colon.

WILLOUGHBY: Well, he may or he may not have. I don't have any information about that, but if he told a prison guard, the prison guard may have reported it to somebody, or he may not have.

COSSACK: Bob, I would think that, at least in the experience I've had, Greta, you know, when somebody confesses one way or the other to the police, whether it be a prison guard, whether it be a sheriff, or whether it be a traffic cop, you know they run right back to the prosecutor to tell them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Wait a second, Roger. I mean, let me give you a hypothetical. OK, the guy has snitched out Rae Carruth. He is now sitting in jail, having pled guilty to second-degree murder, and he thinks all of a sudden everyone is starting to say things to him from the other cells, giving him a hard time. He has now been labeled a snitch. He's knows he is facing all this time. He thinks to himself: I better take the fall. Let me go to a guard, let me make this, because I know they are going to run this statement right to the guard. I think that's the problem that...

COSSACK: What I'm saying is that the guard must have then told the prosecutor right away. I mean, I'm sure the prosecutor didn't just wake up right now.

SCHECK: As I understand it, the guard informed supervisors, and this was not the first kind of incriminating statement -- I should say helpful to the defense statement that Walker had made. So I think a lot may turn on it, but I think you are going to see that the guard is a pretty neutral person here. I actually think this caught the prosecution quite by surprise, this is a very unusual kind of development.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, but the problem is is that whether that carries a lot of weight or a little weight, the statement that was made by this co-defendant really turns a lot on whether there's other sort of corroborative evidence. I mean, how do you explain the hiding in the trunk?

COSSACK: It is going to be which story do you believe.

VAN SUSTEREN: They take all of it together with the jury to sort of bolster it. None of it is sort of the death knell of the defense case, but combined.

But we are going to take a break. Up next, an eye on the death chamber. Convictions in this case could increase the population on North Carolina's death row. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: A career bank robber has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for a 1999 heist. On what grounds did his attorney argue for house arrest instead of prison time?

A: His client is 80 years old with heart problems. Forest "Woody" Tucker's criminal record dates back to the 1930s.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: If convicted, former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth and two other defendants could face the death penalty in the death of 24-year-old Cherica Adams. A fourth defendant, Van Brett Watkins, avoided that sentence by pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Ed, the motive that the prosecutors claim was why Rae Carruth was involved in this murder was that he wanted to avoid paying child support, so that the theory was that as he shot and killed his girlfriend and hopefully the young child she was carrying. How do you take that motive and work it in the jury selection. What are you going to do with it as a defense attorney?

GARLAND: Well, I think you're going to start picturing Rae Carruth as a responsible person, someone that has no criminal record, and try to build an aura of family about him. As I understand it, he had sponsored a gospel concert where his mother was brought in attendance. I would try get some of that to float out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you do it like -- would you hit it head-on in jury selection? I mean, this is a motive that, you know, for everyone sitting on the jury panel that's a tough one to confront. I mean, do you hit them head-on in the jury selection or do you just sort of build up Rae Carruth?

GARLAND: No, I think you better deal with, Have any of the jurors been involved in issues of child support in their family, personally or otherwise? and face it either in an open statement, but at least qualify the jury on it.

COSSACK: Bob, is it tough? I mean, you're going to have to sell -- as a prosecutor, you're going to have to sell this jury on the issue that this young, wealthy man who was making more money than most people do and had a great future had someone killed that was carrying his baby -- murdered -- because he didn't want to pay child support.

BONSIB: Well, we see motiveless -- or motives that don't make sense in murder cases all the time. We give instructions to juries where juries are told motive is not an element of the offense. You got to rely, then, on what is your evidence as to why it happened. And in this case, you've got some very serious problems. You've got -- for the defense, you've got the flight evidence, you've got the cell phone telephone call to 911. There's some strong, compelling evidence that points towards this.

We also, I think, look for the defense to raise those kinds of issues. If you build a good character picture, you better be able to support it because you're raising the risk of the prosecutor then opening the door.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me take that thought to Colon. In terms of raising the issue, if in this jury selection if you were the prosecutor, would you be talking about the motive? You don't have to prove that in your case, but is that something in jury selection or do you run the risk of having the defense coming back and saying, look, he had a lot of money. This wasn't an issue and it's the prosecutor just going overboard?

WILLOUGHBY: Well, I don't know what his financial condition was. I expect that the prosecutors have probably explored that and whether or not there are other instances of problems with women or with child support.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you put that in your jury -- I mean, would that be part of your jury selection strategy to talk about that motive? WILLOUGHBY: Probably not. We probably would be much more focused on his celebrity status and death penalty issues and things like that.

COSSACK: Barry, what about those statements that are going to come -- that are, I guess, going to be admitted from the victim under the theory of dying declaration, their coming in? What do you do about that? You can't -- obviously there's no cross-examination.

SCHECK: Well, I think some of those actually shouldn't have been admitted. But I think that, you know, the defense can deal with them because, after all, she was being given drugs in the hospital, they are fairly ambiguous.

But to get back to the issue of motive for a second, I think the motive helps the defense in this case because I think he did have adequate financial resources. I think he actually can demonstrate a commitment to this child and going to Lamaze classes and things like that with Cherica Adams. So in the end, actually I think motive, in the final analysis, is going to help the defense.

COSSACK: Barry, I got to end it because that's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE," which presidential candidate's tax plan is better for you? Phone in with your questions for advisers to the Bush and Gore campaigns. And that's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And speaking of the presidential election, tonight on CNN "NEWSSTAND," we'll discuss the African-American influence in election 2000. Send me your e-mail questions and tune in tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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