After 19 years behind bars in North Carolina, former NFL wide receiver Rae Carruth was released from prison early Monday morning.
The 44-year-old ex-Carolina Panthers player — convicted in 2001 for conspiracy to commit murder, after plotting the murder of his pregnant girlfriend — was released from the Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina, PEOPLE confirms.
The former first-round draft pick was serving an 18- to 24-year sentence.
In February, officials told PEOPLE Carruth would be released in October, but did not provide a specific date.
Carruth hired a hitman to fatally shoot his girlfriend, Cherica Adams, in late 1999.
She died a month later, and the baby she was carrying survived. Being born seven weeks premature left the baby with severe disabilities.
Carruth has expressed a desire to become part of his 19-year-old son Chancellor Lee Adams’ life.
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Earlier this year, Carruth wrote a letter to local television station WBTV, intended for Chancellor’s grandmother, Saundra Adams, who cares for the teen who has cerebral palsy.
“Ms. Adams, it would mean everything to me to be able to know and have a relationship with my son,” he wrote in the letter. “I owe him.”
The letter continues: “I’d give anything to have the opportunity to do right by Chancellor and to play a meaningful role in his life. I mean, come on Ms. Adams, the reality is you aren’t going to be around forever. At some point someone else will have to be responsible for Chancellor’s care. That being said, of course when that time comes, I would like to be in a position to be seriously considered as a viable option.”
In an interview with WBTV following publication of the letter, Saundra Adams said Carruth will never have custody of his son.
“He will not have custody of Chancellor,” Adams told the station, adding, “I don’t think [Carruth] understands the magnitude of what I go through on a day to day basis at all.”
While acknowledging she was grateful for his apology, Adams said, “I still see … the narcissistic behavior. I still see the selfishness. He’s trying to make this all about him.”
The former NFL great did not address reporters as he exited the prison Monday morning, wearing a knit cap and an unzipped jacket.
A handful of well-wishers were on hand to show their support for Carruth, who was carried away in a white SUV.
Carruth will be on probation for the next nine months and has been barred from leaving the state.
Adams was shot four times by Van Brett Watkins, who is serving a 40-year sentence.