When Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian picked up his newspaper the day after Thanksgiving, he was stunned to read that Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth, a player he had once made his No. 1 draft choice, had been arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in Charlotte.

Carruth was jailed Nov. 25 and also charged with attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle in an incident in which his 24-year-old pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, had been shot four times while driving her car. She underwent an emergency Caesarean section to deliver her baby. Mother and child, delivered 10 weeks prematurely, remained in critical condition yesterday at Carolinas Medical Center.

"There was never any indication of any kind of problem with Rae whatsoever," said Polian, Carolina's general manager when he took Carruth out of Colorado with the 27th overall pick in the 1997 draft. "I was only with him for one year and I can only tell you he was a very hard worker, a guy who did everything we asked. A nice, quiet kid. I'm probably as shocked as anyone."

Bond was set at $3 million for Carruth, 25, and although his lawyer, George Laughrun, sought to have the bail reduced to $100,000 at a hearing yesterday, Mecklenburg District Court Judge Phil Howerton declined. Assistant District Attorney Gentry Caudill said at yesterday's hearing that Carruth instigated the shooting of Adams.

"Rae Carruth was the instigator here," said Caudill, according to the Associated Press. "We are a heartbeat away from a double-murder case."

When Howerton asked prosecutors for reasons to keep the $3 million bail, they said eyewitnesses and direct evidence put Carruth and two other defendants at the scene of the attack.

Carruth's arrest has stunned his Panthers teammates, coaches and club officials. People who know Carruth say the brutal nature of the crime seemed out of character for a player who showed up at training camp this summer with a skateboard.

According to police, Adams was shot as she was driving at about 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 16 in south Charlotte. They said the shots came from a vehicle that pulled alongside her car. She was able to pull off the road and dial 911 on her car telephone. A homeowner who heard the shots helped her until police arrived.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police also arrested two other suspects on Thursday on the same charges Carruth faces--William Wadkins, 44, and Michael Kennedy, 24. Police Capt. Sean Mulhall, who is heading the police investigation, said yesterday both men have spoken to police since their arrest, but Carruth has declined to talk to investigators under advice from his lawyer.

"Because she's still critical, we haven't had much communication with the victim either," Mulhall said. "He [Carruth] had an attorney from the beginning, and we haven't been able to talk to him. But from our investigation, we had enough to arrest him. That's really all I can say about it."

"To this day we don't know what the state of North Carolina alleges Rae Carruth's involvement is in this case," Carruth's lawyer, George Laughrun, said yesterday, according to the Associated Press. "We don't know the nature of the evidence against him."

The Mecklenburg District Attorney's office also is not commenting. A spokesman for the District Attorney said his office will probably seek an indictment on the three charges for all three suspects from a grand jury as soon as Monday, when the panel reconvenes. A preliminary hearing has been set for Dec. 15.

Carruth's mother, Theodry, has publicly criticized the $3 million bail as excessively unfair. She told the Charlotte Observer that Carruth, who has a base salary of $652,000 this year, "does not have that kind of money. . . . You almost feel like they were trying to break him. This is a 25-year-old kid. This is a kid who has had little more than a parking ticket."

In a telephone interview with Charlotte television station WSOC, Theodry Carruth said on Monday that she spoke with her son and that he told her he had nothing to do with the shooting. She also has said she is awaiting a DNA test to confirm that the child Adams was carrying was her son's baby.

Theodry Carruth, a single mother who raised Rae and his sister, Samel, in Sacramento, could not be reached to comment.

The Panthers have put Carruth on the inactive list until the case is heard, but he will continue to be paid.

Coach George Seifert said on Monday he had not been in contact with Carruth since "the latter part of last week. . . . We are not specifically counseling him right now. He's got his legal counsel. That is certainly not a strength of mine or any of our coaches. There has been conversation about the situation, but I don't have anything to report as far as what we're going to do or anything like that."

Carruth has been on the team's active roster all year but has missed the previous five games with a sprained ankle. Over his three-year career, he has missed 19 of a possible 42 games with injuries and generally has been considered a major underachiever as a professional, even though he was listed as one of the Panthers' starting wide receivers entering the regular season.

Mulhall said as far as police know, Carruth has no prior arrest record in North Carolina, in Colorado (where he attended the University of Colorado for four years) or in California, where he graduated from Valley High School in Sacramento, the school that produced former Redskins defensive end Charles Mann.

Donald Hoskins, his football coach at Valley High, said yesterday that he also was stunned to read about Carruth's arrest and details about the charges.

"All I know is he was a very respectful kid," Hoskins said in a telephone interview. "I had him for three years, and I helped him get into Colorado at his mother's request. She didn't know much about the recruiting process, and I did whatever I could. He also got into Cal Berkeley, a very good school, too, and that ought to tell you something about the kid.

"He was normal, with ups and downs like all of them. His grades weren't very good in ninth and 10th grade, but he worked real hard at it and got them up there. When he went away to college, he was homesick and wanted to come back, the usual stuff, but he stayed and wound up starting there as a true freshman."

Carruth was a teammate of Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook at Colorado. In his senior season he was named a first team all-American after catching 54 passes, posting his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season and scoring 10 touchdowns. He also earned three letters in track at Colorado and took a double major in English and education.

"I coached Rae his whole career there," said University of Washington assistant coach Karl Dorrell, a former offensive coordinator at Colorado. "Never did he have any problem. He was never in any trouble. He was never insubordinate. He never rocked the boat. He was looked up to highly by his teammates for his leadership. He's always been a level-headed kid. He never even got into a fight. He took out his aggression in the way he played. We're all in shock that something like this has come about."