02/05/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
Rae Carruth dazzled football fans with his heroics as a receiver for the Carolina Panthers. But Cherica Adams had begun to see a different side of her boyfriend. "What's Rae's problem?" she asked in her pregnancy journal. "I've been nice. Every time I talk to him, in the middle of the conversation he hangs up on me." Driving home Nov. 16, 1999, from a date with Carruth, Adams, 24, was shot four times in the neck, back and abdomen. Though her child was saved by an emergency cesarean section, Adams died a month later.
On Jan. 22, following a 13-week trial in Charlotte, N.C., Carruth, 27, was sentenced to 19 to 24 years for conspiring to murder his onetime girlfriend and destroy their unborn child. Though the defense argued Adams's death was due to a drug deal gone bad, the triggerman, who could end up serving a life sentence, testified the rising NFL star ordered her death because he didn't want to pay child support. Another former girlfriend also said he threatened to harm her if she didn't have an abortion. And before she died Adams implicated Carruth, saying he slowed his car in front of hers just before the shooter pulled up, then he sped away.
A native of Sacramento, Calif., who has a son by another woman and rose from modest means to athletic success, Carruth sat stoically at his sentencing hearing. There, Adams's mother, who has custody of her developmentally disabled 14-month-old grandson, Chancellor, described her loss. "This family will never be the same," said Saundra Adams, 43. "My mom outlived her granddaughter."