Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of sexual assault by a female student two years ago, was cleared by the university this weekend of any student code of conduct violations related to the allegations.
Florida State held a hearing in December to determine whether Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy and led FSU to the BCS National Championship in January, had violated four parts of the university’s student code of conduct. Two potential violations related to the sexual assault, while two others related to endangering a fellow student. The code of conduct hearing was required by federal Title IX law.
In clearing the quarterback, former Florida Supreme Court justice Major Harding, who oversaw the hearing, wrote in a letter to Winston that “the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charge violations of the Code. Namely, I find that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof,” according to USA Today, which obtained a copy of the letter.
The woman has until Jan. 13 to appeal the ruling.
“We will consider an appeal but right now we feel a little duped,” Baine Kerr, the woman’s lawyer, said in an statement. “At some point we have to recognize that Florida State is never going to hold [Jameis] Winston responsible.”
Harding considered more than 1,000 pages of evidence, USA Today reported:
Harding noted that the woman did not seek help from people outside of Potbelly’s, the bar where she met Winston in December 2012, or during the cab ride with two other football players to Winston’s apartment. Statements from those teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, were consistent with Winston’s account that the encounter was consensual, Harding wrote.
The judge also noted that the exam and the testimony of Kathy Walker, the sexual assault nurse examiner who conducted the medical exam that morning, was inconclusive.
A year ago, Florida state attorney William Meggs declined to pursue criminal charges against Winston due to insufficient evidence. Meggs had re-opened an investigation into the alleged sexual assault after local media reported the original police report from the case.
The Winston case has embroiled Florida State for more than two years, especially amid reports and allegations that the Tallahassee Police Department and the university failed to properly investigate the woman’s claims. In April, the New York Times detailed apparent improprieties in both Florida State and the TPD’s handling of the case, including that police were slow to investigate the claims and that Florida State athletic officials did not notify the university of claims against Winston despite knowledge of them. FSU later acknowledged that specific claim, though both it and the TPD disputed the Times’ assertion that “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.”
The woman’s attorney during the original case was critical of the TPD and FSU investigations as well as Meggs’ re-opened case, calling it “an investigation into a rape victim, not a rape suspect.”
Winston could still face a civil suit, but it is almost impossible that any appeals under the conduct code will affect his playing status. Florida State will play in the College Football Playoff on Jan. 1, with its last possible game coming on Jan. 13, when the appeals process would be just beginning. Winston is expected to leave for the NFL Draft after the season.
Florida State, meanwhile, remains one of at least 55 schools under federal investigation for Title IX law violations regarding campus sexual assault.