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Conduct hearing for FSU quarterback Jameis Winston rolls into Day 2

Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston comes down the stairs for a break during his student conduct code hearing on December 2, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. The hearing will continue on Wednesday December 3rd. [Getty Images] 
Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston comes down the stairs for a break during his student conduct code hearing on December 2, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. The hearing will continue on Wednesday December 3rd. [Getty Images] 
Published Dec. 3, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — They arrived to the back entrance Tuesday a few minutes apart: Florida State star quarterback Jameis Winston just before noon, and the woman who accused him of sexual assault a few minutes after.

For five hours, they were stationed in separate rooms in the same red brick building while a former Florida Supreme Court justice presided over FSU's code of conduct hearing on Winston. After almost two turbulent years, multiple investigations and two delays, the most closely watched Title IX hearing in history began.

"We think this nightmare will be over very soon," said Winston's adviser, David Cornwell.

How soon is unclear.

One of the woman's attorneys, John Clune, said parties are hopeful the hearing ends today. But hearing officer Major Harding has blocked off the entire week to hear the case and determine whether the national championship winner is responsible for up to four violations of the school's conduct code. Possible punishments range from reprimand to expulsion.

"We'll keep going until he tells us that he's ready to stop, or the witnesses are done," Clune said.

The fact that the hearing began at all was a development. The meeting on sexual assault allegations from December 2012 had already been delayed twice, and possible litigation threatened its existence.

Clune said his client — a former FSU student from the Tampa Bay area — found Tuesday's hearing empowering.

"There was a long time where she felt like she had no voice," Clune said, "and nobody would listen to what she had to say, and people like the Tallahassee Police Department would label her as not being cooperative or not pushing the issue enough. After months of effort to be here (Tuesday), I think it's a really important day for her, regardless of what the outcome of the hearing will be."

The case's high profile attracted more than a dozen reporters, while the hearing took place around a long oval table inside a second-story conference room. Two security guards patrolled the lobby or watched from the balcony as an occasional student strolled into the academic building.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner and his adviser pulled up in a slate Jeep shortly before noon. Winston, wearing a gray suit, said nothing when he walked inside or when he left five hours later. His accuser and her attorney arrived three minutes after noon and exited through a side door.

Clune said Winston and his accuser were never in the main room together.

"That's just not something that is a healthy thing for our client," Clune said.

A few minutes before the hearing began, Winston's adviser gave a two-minute statement, repeating claims that the woman was trying to "extort … a 20-year-old college student" and that investigations by the police and State Attorney ended without charges.

"We intend to end this process" Tuesday, Cornwell said. "Unfortunately, in these type of cases, the only way to confront the lie is with the truth. Jameis will tell the truth (Tuesday), and we are confident Justice Harding, when he hears her multiple lies and Jameis' truth will find as every other entity has to this point: that she is lying."

What Winston — and everyone else — said in the hearing is unclear. Harding told attorneys not to discuss what was said publicly. Clune said three or four witnesses spoke, and more are expected when the hearing resumes today. Cornwell said the hearing went "as we expected."

Attorneys were allowed to be at the hearing but weren't allowed to speak or answer Harding's questions.

Winston's teammates Chris Casher and Ronald Darby were inside for about 25 minutes. They have already had their own conduct hearings as eyewitnesses to the off-campus sexual encounter and did not have to answer questions Tuesday.

By 5 p.m., the first day of the most closely watched university hearing in history was over.

Clune planned to meet with his client to go over the day's events.

Winston attended a meeting before football practice, which coach Jimbo Fisher said was pushed back in part to accommodate the hearing. Fisher said the event hasn't affected the undefeated Seminoles' preparations for Saturday's ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech or Winston's focus.

"Spot on," Fisher called Winston's practice. "About perfect."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.