December 22, 2014 / 12:17 AM / 3 years ago

Florida State quarterback Winston cleared in conduct hearing into alleged rape

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida State University star quarterback Jameis Winston has been cleared in a student conduct code hearing looking into charges that he sexually assaulted a female student two years ago, according to documents released to Reuters on Sunday.

Dec 6, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) walks off the field after defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bank of America Stadium. FSU defeated Georgia Tech 37-35. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports - RTR4GZI3

There was insufficient evidence to charge the 20-year-old sophomore, one of the top U.S. college football players last year after winning the Heisman Trophy, with a violation, concluded retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Major B. Harding, retained by the university to oversee the proceedings.

“In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charged violations of the Code,” Harding wrote in his five-page recommendation.

Winston was not charged criminally in the December 2012 incident, which he has maintained was consensual, after a Florida state attorney last year found insufficient evidence.

Attorney John Clune of Boulder, Colorado, who represents the accuser, said he was “stunned and dismayed by the order.”

“It ignores the bulk of the evidence,” said Clune, adding he was considering an appeal.

His client, who no longer attends Florida State, testified at the hearing, he said.

Winston did not answer questions at the hearing but submitted a lengthy statement in which he provided a graphic account of having sex with the woman in his apartment after they met at a bar near the campus.

“Clune kept lying about us, and we kept telling the truth about them,” said David Cornwell, the player’s Atlanta attorney, in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Florida State, which has gone undefeated for two seasons under Winston, is preparing to defend its national title next month in the first-ever collegiate football playoffs.

The case has received widespread attention as U.S. universities face scrutiny for their handling of sexual assault allegations, and the National Football League faces criticism for its handling of domestic violence and abuse by its players.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating Florida State under Title IX, which requires colleges receiving federal funds to promptly investigate sexual abuse complaints.

Citing confidentiality of student disciplinary procedures, Harding declined Sunday to discuss his findings, submitted to the university on Friday.

Florida State President John Thrasher said in a statement that the hearing reviewed more than 1,000 pages of evidence from multiple investigations.

“Moving forward, we remain committed to the principle of due process,” he said, calling student safety the school’s top priority.

Reporting by Bill Cotterell; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Eric Walsh and Christian Plumb

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