Saturday, November 17, 2018
Colleges

Florida State QB Jameis Winston's code of conduct hearing concludes

TALLAHASSEE — After almost 13 hours stretched over two days, Florida State University's code of conduct hearing on Jameis Winston ended Wednesday without the star quarterback taking questions.

What happens next will be determined by a retired Florida Supreme Court justice and two final legal papers.

Winston and the woman who accused him of rape almost two years ago can both file final briefs to outline their case next week. The hearing officer, Major Harding, then has 10 school days to determine whether it's more likely than not that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner broke up to four parts of FSU's conduct code.

A final decision — and punishment, ranging from nothing to expulsion — is expected before the end of the year and the college football playoffs.

"We want him to be found responsible, and we want him expelled from school," said John Clune, one of the woman's attorneys.

"We're pleased that it's over," said Winston's adviser, David Cornwell.

All it took was months of posturing, several investigations, two hearing delays and hours of testimony in a second-floor conference room in an engineering building.

Winston and the woman — a then-FSU student from the Tampa Bay area — arrived separately around 9 a.m. Neither said anything, and Winston carried a binder of his phone records as he left the hearing.

Winston gave a statement at the hearing that included his account of the encounter with the accuser on Dec. 7, 2012, which he said was consensual. He did not answer any questions.

"Rape is a vicious crime. The only thing as vicious as rape is falsely accusing someone of rape," Winston said in the statement obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. "(The woman) and her lawyers' public campaign to vilify me guarantees that her false allegations will follow me for the rest of my life."

Few other details are available because of confidentiality and privacy requirements. Clune said there were no major surprises and that most of the information was already available in the hundreds of pages of documents given to all parties.

It's unclear how many witnesses were interviewed. FSU football players Chris Casher and Ronald Darby were present Tuesday, but the two eyewitnesses to the sexual encounter didn't have to answer questions, either.

"I think if Chris Casher and Ronald Darby were the sails behind this defense," Clune said, "that ship sank a long time ago."

Clune said some witnesses interviewed Wednesday by phone, and at least two testified in person: FSU Police Department officer Dinorah Harris; and Jason Newlin, an investigator for the State Attorney's Office.

Harris was the first officer to speak with the woman on Dec. 7, 2012, before the off-campus sexual assault case was referred to the Tallahassee Police Department. Harris confirmed that she was there to testify, declined further comment and left the hearing after about 90 minutes.

Newlin arrived at about 1:45 p.m. — almost five hours after Day 2 of the hearing began. He wrote the final 15-page report last year when State Attorney Willie Meggs decided not to charge Winston with a crime because of a lack of evidence and the woman's "problematic" testimony.

Newlin said FSU asked him and a victim's advocate from the State Attorney's Office to take the unusual step of testifying at a university hearing.

Although both sides were quiet about the hearing's proceedings, they had plenty to say after the hearing ended, before 5 p.m.

Cornwell reasserted that Winston did nothing wrong and said the woman didn't meet the 50.1 percent burden of proof to find Winston responsible for a violation. He accused the complainant and her attorneys of a "shakedown," with the end game a civil lawsuit against Winston.

"We now know what the game plan was, because the only thing that we got was more inconsistencies and more lies …" Cornwell said. "We will do our best to shut it down with our briefs and have Justice Harding conclude that Jameis didn't do anything wrong."

Clune fired back, saying that Cornwell and the truth are not "very close friends." Clune said they want to hold Winston accountable and that the hearing's decision will be important as they consider a lawsuit.

"We'll see what happens in this process," Clune said, "and we'll make that decision in the near future."

Meantime, the hearing isn't likely to affect Winston's eligibility. He was expected to practice Wednesday evening for the undefeated Seminoles before the defending national champions' ACC Championship Game Saturday against Georgia Tech.

While a ruling is expected to come before the bowl game or national semifinals, any appeals could push a final decision into 2015 — and potentially after the Jan. 12 national title game.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

 
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