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TALLAHASSEE. Fla. – At 12:04 p.m. here on Tuesday, the woman who accused Florida State star Jameis Winston of rape emerged from a white sedan and walked quickly to a conduct hearing she has anticipated for months. She kept her gaze lowered as she entered a campus building on the outskirts of her former school.
Winston, dressed in a brown suit, was already inside.
What happened between the two on a December night nearly two years ago may be fully known only to them, however what ensued is known everywhere: the woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by the quarterback after a visit to a local bar. After a botched investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department, the state's attorney's office declined to charge Winston with rape. Yet he and his accuser were summoned to appear before a judge as part of the university's sexual assault investigation, as required by Title IX regulations. If Winston is found responsible by former Florida Supreme Court judge Major Harding, he could face penalties including expulsion.
The day would be "empowering" and "emotional" for the woman, in the words of her lawyer, John Clune. In the months since the incident, Winston's doings and whereabouts have been widely reported. He has won a Heisman Trophy, led his Seminoles football team to a national championship and he has been caught for stealing crab legs from Publix. He was suspended from a game for standing on top of a cafeteria table and shouting an obscene phrase. Winston is famous, and likely headed to the NFL draft after the ACC Championship and college football playoff, should his team make it.
Little is known about his accuser, other than comments last year from one of her lawyers, Patricia Carroll, who said she was "not doing well" and had left the school "for safety reasons." Tuesday morning, Clune released the following statement:
"This is the day that Mr. Winston has been desperately trying to avoid for two years. This courageous young woman finally gets the chance to stand up for herself and against Mr. Winston and big time college sports which has long run over the rights and protection of women on campus. Neither Jameis Winston nor his lawyer can stop what is coming."
Before the hearing began, an adviser to Winston, sports attorney David Cornwell, walked out of the front of the building to address reporters. With a firm gaze and a quivering lip, he stated twice that Winston did not rape or sexually assault the accuser, who he named. (It is Yahoo policy not to reveal the identity of alleged rape victims.) He vowed "Jameis will tell the truth today" and expressed his hope that this long process would end with the day's proceedings. "We are confident," he said, "that 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."
On his way back inside, Cornwell turned as he opened the door and said the accuser's side is "executing their extortion plan."
The hearing went on for four hours at an oval conference table before being adjourned for the day. Winston and his accuser were not in the same room at any point, and that was by design.
"That is not going to happen," Clune said, "because that is not something that is a healthy thing for our client."
So Winston and his accuser moved throughout the building as the hearing went on, with one entering the main conference room to give testimony and the other huddled with advisers either downstairs or in another room down the hall. The building has a lab on the first floor, with a glider painted in the school colors of garnet and gold, so a few students meandered about as the hearing went on upstairs. A security team in suits stood sentry outside the hearing room.
The proceedings had the semblance of a legal trial, but the process was less formal. Winston and his accuser could give their own testimony, and the judge could ask them questions directly. Clune declined to give specifics of the hearing, citing judge's orders.
About halfway through the session, two of Winston's teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, arrived at the hearing. Both teammates were present on the night of the encounter between Winston and his accuser. Both left the hearing after less than a half-hour.
After the session, Winston and Cornwell exited the building. Cornwell was less animated than before the proceedings, saying only that the hearing went "as expected" and "we think this nightmare will be over very soon."
On the other side of the building, Clune seemed more upbeat.
"There was a long time where she felt like she had no voice," he said of his client, "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 today, I think it's a really important day for her regardless of what the outcome of the hearing is."
The hearing will resume Wednesday. It could continue through the week, though it is not expected to interfere with Winston's trip on Thursday to Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Football practice was moved to the late afternoon on Tuesday. No reason was given.