In 1999, Rae Carruth, a young football player playing for the Carolina Panthers, was accused of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams. For Charlotte Observer reporter Scott Fowler, it was “the story of a lifetime.”
Carruth’s trial begun in late 2000, and on Jan. 16, 2001, a jury found Carruth guilty of three out of four counts (he was found not guilty of first-degree murder).
“It felt like very high stakes almost all the time,” said Fowler, who as a young sports columnist at the time, tried to get into the courtroom as often as he could.
After spending nearly 19 years in prison, Carruth was released on Oct. 22, 2018. To coincide with his release date, the Observer and McClatchy Studios launched “Carruth,” a seven-part multi-platform series on Oct. 16. The series was based on Fowler’s reporting, and includes a serialized podcast, videos, and news stories, which all took about 11 months to complete. The full package can be found at charlotteobserver.com/carruth.
The series follows the relationship between Carruth and Adams, her pregnancy, and Carruth’s plot to murder Adams and their unborn son. But it’s also a story of hope. Even though Adams was killed, her son, Chancellor Lee, survived. He was born prematurely and raised by his maternal grandmother, Saundra Adams.
Fowler said it was Saundra that inspired him to turn the story into a multi-platform series: “Every time I interviewed Saundra, I was struck by what a remarkable speaker she was…She was talking about forgiving the man who was convicted of plotting the murder of her daughter, for God’s sake. And I would hear it and think to myself: ‘Other people would want to hear this. Not just read it. Hear it.’”
Fowler collaborated with his longtime editor, Mike Persinger, on the print story; video producer Jeff Siner and visual editor Matt Walsh for the documentary; and Davin Coburn, McClatchy’s senior podcast producer, and Rachel Wise, McClatchy’s regional video editor in the Carolinas, for the audio part of the series. The project also called for teams of illustrators, web designers and more.
The series received tremendous positive feedback and helped raise visibility to domestic violence since it was released during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The team also worked with nonprofits and welcomed their guidance throughout the process.
In addition, the project highlighted the importance of local reporting. Fowler said a few of those who worked on the series have been at the Observer for nearly 30 years, so they knew the history behind the story, and they had access to the right sources.
“This couldn’t have been done by a national magazine writer parachuting in for a week,” Fowler said. “It was the sort of rich, in-depth story that local newspapers are made to do.”