Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth, who in 2001 was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend, was released just after 8 a.m. ET Monday from the Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina.
Carruth, 44, devised a plot to kill Cherica Adams during a November 1999 shooting. Adams died about a month later.
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.
He will be a on a nine-month post-release program, according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman Jerry Higgins. Carruth would need special permission from a case officer to leave the country during that span, but is free to go wherever he pleases after nine months.
Adams was shot four times by Van Brett Watkins, who was hired by Carruth. Watkins was sentenced to a minimum of 40 years.
Carruth, Carolina's first pick of the 1997 draft (No. 27 overall), was sentenced to 18 to 24 years. He stopped his vehicle in front of Adams' as the two returned from a movie, so Watkins could pull alongside in another vehicle to kill Adams.
Chancellor Lee Adams, Carruth's son, is now 18 years old. Chancellor Lee, who has cerebral palsy, survived the shooting while in his mother's womb, but a loss of blood and oxygen the night of his birth caused permanent brain damage. Saundra Adams, Cherica's mother, has raised her grandson since his birth.
Carruth has repeatedly said he wants to have a relationship with his son. Saundra Adams had previously said she would be there when Carruth got out of prison, but she was not present Monday.
Last week, Carruth told WSOC-TV in Charlotte in a telephone interview, "I just truly want to be forgiven.''
He 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.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report.