TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As two Florida State football players faced a code of conduct hearing Tuesday for observing a sexual encounter between Jameis Winston and a woman who said the quarterback raped her, the Heisman Trophy winner was noticeably absent.
The woman was there for a hearing in which the two players, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, faced five violations of the student code of conduct related to the Dec. 7, 2012, sexual encounter between Winston and the woman.
Winston, a relief pitcher for the baseball team, was in North Carolina, where the Seminoles are participating in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this week, sports information director Jason Leturmy confirmed.
John Clune, a high-profile Title IX attorney for the woman, released a statement Tuesday that said:
"As reported, a hearing was held at Florida State today for the two students charged in connection with the investigation of Mr. Winston. Out of respect for the confidentiality of the school's process, we will not comment on what transpired in the hearing room. We do confirm that our client was present as were the two charged students. Although we were told by the school that Mr. Winston would be called as a witness, he did not show for the hearing and no further explanation was given. Under the student code of conduct, the school has 10 days to reach a decision."
Attorney Tim Jansen, who represented Winston during the criminal investigation, could not immediately be reached by USA TODAY Sports. He told the Tallahassee Democrat that he and Winston were not notified of or requested to attend any hearing today.
Adam Ellis, Casher's attorney, confirmed that Winston was not at the hearing.
"All I can tell you is that he was listed as a witness and we did take a brief break during the process for them to go outside and see if he was in the lobby," said Ellis. "I think they expected him there, but he was not."
Winston was not charged criminally, but Florida State is under investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for its handling of sexual assault cases. The woman filed a complaint in March.
Under Title IX, schools are required to investigate complaints of sexual assault regardless of any criminal investigation.
Winston, who has said through his attorney that the sex was consensual, does not face any code of conduct charges from FSU. School officials did not speak to him about the incident until January, two weeks after the Heisman Trophy winner led the Seminoles to a BCS national championship.
According to attorneys for the woman, Winston did not cooperate with questioning. FSU cited that as a reason for not pursuing the investigation further.
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Casher and Darby were each charged with "conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for another person" and "acts that invade privacy of another person." Casher is also charged with "recording images without consent."
The hearing body will determine if Casher or Darby are responsible based on a preponderance of evidence. If found responsible, they face discipline ranging from a letter of reprimand to expulsion from school. Both players and the woman have the right to appeal any decision.
Ellis released to USA TODAY Sports a statement that Casher read during the hearing. It reads, in part, "I believed that the statement I made to the police was private. Maybe that belief was naïve, but I had no idea that I was a potential target of investigation, or that anything I said that day would ever be used against me. I was being honest and trying to help, and I find it ironic and incredibly unfair that my honesty may now cost me my position on the football team, or even worse, my status as an FSU student.
"I deeply regret my actions on the evening in question. The atmosphere of over-familiarity with my teammates and the lack of privacy bubble we lived in at the time contributed to my poor choices that night. I entered and attempted to record mostly as a joke with my friend Jameis, but I should never have assumed that his female guest would feel comfortable with my presence in the room."
Lawyers for the woman contend the players admitted to the violations in November in sworn affidavits through Winston's attorney, and in police interviews, that they witnessed a consensual sexual encounter between Winston and the woman. In a police interview, Casher also admitted video recording Winston and the woman.
The woman told police Casher asked Winston to stop sexually assaulting her.
"(Casher) volunteered that he did make an attempt to record what was going on in the bedroom," Ellis said. "He apologized for that today. At the time he did it, he felt like he was just joking around. He had no ill will.
"It was a poor decision on his part and he recognizes that but he didn't have any ill will."
Tico Gimbel, who represents Darby, declined to comment about the specifics of the hearing.
"Their proceedings are confidential," he said. "That's what their proceedings are, and we are going to abide by that."
Citing federal privacy laws, FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks declined to comment.
The school has not commented on its handling of any investigation it conducted into the alleged assault. In response to a New York Times story in April, the school issued a response that said, in part, "FSU's Title IX/Code of Conduct process has worked well for the vast majority of sexual assault cases. The process has provided victims with the emotional and procedural help they need, and the university has handled dozens of cases over the years that have resulted in the discipline of respondents."
The players' involvement came to light late last year when the allegation against Winston became a national news story. Tallahassee police were largely criticized for letting the case sit dormant for nine months after the woman reported the alleged assault almost immediately after it happened.
State attorney Willie Meggs opened an investigation in November after Tallahassee police received media requests for documents related to the case. DNA from the woman's panties matched a sample from Winston.
Winston has not been interviewed related to the case. Police contacted him by phone in January 2013, but Winston said he would call back later. Winston retained Jansen, who declined to make his client available at that time or in late 2013 when the state attorney was investigating.
Instead, Casher and Darby spoke for the quarterback. A day after the state attorney's office received the case, Jansen provided sworn affidavits from Winston's teammates.
Neither Casher nor Darby faced criminal charges for their involvement.
Under Florida statute, it is illegal to secretly videotape a person while he or she is "dressing, undressing or privately exposing the body" without that person's knowledge or consent. It is a misdemeanor to observe a person in such a situation.
Meggs told USA TODAY Sports in April that he would need the video Casher said he recorded to press charges.
Casher told police he had deleted the video and discarded the phone by the time he was interviewed 11 months later. Ellis said Tuesday that his client did not distribute the video.
"When we tried to get the video, he said he got rid of it," Meggs said last month. "All I can tell you is we did everything we knew how to do to get a copy of the video. We do not have a copy of the video. If it's in the cloud, I don't know where it is."
Darby, a junior defensive back, started in nine games and played in 14 for the Seminoles last season. He was the ACC's 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has been named to the watch list for the Lott Trophy, given to the best defensive player in college football.
Casher, who was a redshirt sophomore defensive end, played in 13 games last season.