Lawyers for Winston’s accuser strongly refute extortion claim

Attorneys for Jameis Winston and for his accuser exchanged strong allegations Wednesday.

Melina Vastola/Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Attorneys for a woman who accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of rape hit back Wednesday at the assertion that her lawyer demanded $7 million to settle potential claims against the Heisman Trophy winner, the school and the Tallahassee Police Department.

Winston was not charged with a crime in the alleged rape, which occurred Dec. 7, 2012 and which one of his attorneys said was a consensual encounter.

The statement by Baine Kerr and John Clune followed a story posted by the celebrity gossip website TMZ.com that asserted one of Winston’s lawyers had written a letter to Florida State officials in which he contended that an attorney for the woman offered to sell the accuser’s silence.

In the letter, later obtained by FOX Sports, Atlanta attorney David Cornwell asserted that lawyer Patricia Carroll told him “if we settle, you will never hear from my client or me again – in the press or anywhere.”

Kerr and Clune responded with this statement:

Atlanta NFL lawyer, David Cornwell, has apparently leaked to TMZ a self-serving letter to Florida State University that is full of dishonest and distorted statements at a time when Mr. Winston is suffering from the negative attention of his own continuing misconduct of last week. Mr. Cornwell appears to know that Mr. Winston is about to be charged by Florida State with sexual assault and this letter seems to be his final attempt to prevent FSU from complying with federal law.

The facts that Mr. Cornwell chose not to disclose are that it was he himself who reached out to our client’s former counsel Patricia Carroll to discuss paying off our client. Patricia Carroll didn’t even know who David Cornwell was until he called. Mr. Cornwell then himself flew down from Atlanta to negotiate with Ms. Carroll.

Settlement discussions were immediately unproductive as Cornwell was crude and insulting going so far as to say “your client likes to f*** football players.”  When told that the client’s main concern was not money but that Winston be held accountable for his actions, Cornwell threatened to sue our client and her parents for civil racketeering in an effort to intimidate them into staying quiet. After learning about Mr. Cornwell’s unprofessional conduct at that meeting from Ms. Carroll, our office has decidedly not engaged with Mr. Cornwell at all or anyone else on Mr. Winston’s behalf.  Although it our understanding that settlement was discussed, no authorized demands were made of Mr. Winston.

Mr. Cornwell additionally and inaccurately portrays that our client chose to file a complaint “two years later”. The truth is that the University approached our client in October of 2013 and asked her for the first time whether she would cooperate with disciplinary charges against Mr. Winston after the school received a second report of sexual misconduct by another woman. Our client responded that she would certainly cooperate. Since that time our client through counsel has repeatedly agreed to cooperate and meet with the University. All of these communications, including the October 2013 discussion with FSU officials, is documented. Mr. Cornwell may wish the truth were otherwise but FSU’s own records proves him false.

To the extent that Mr. Cornwell references statements about Mr. Winston’s race, we would doubt that Ms. Carroll made such remarks. The suggested remarks are certainly not beliefs held by our client and she would never authorize anyone to say such things.

JAMEIS WINSTON INCIDENTS TIMELINE

Cornwell has not responded to multiple messages left by FOX Sports.

According to the Associated Press, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said Wednesday morning that he had been informed of the report from TMZ, but did not have previous knowledge of the letter.

Winston has been the subject of controversy since last November, when it came to light that a woman had accused him of raping her the year before but that the investigation had been shelved by the Tallahassee Police Department. Since then, other incidents involving Winston have been made public — allegations that he stole soda from a Burger King, was involved in a pellet- and BB-gun battle that caused an estimated $4,000 in damage to windows at the apartment complex where he lived and that he stole $32 worth of crab legs from a Tallahassee grocery store.

Just last week, FSU administrators suspended him from the team’s game against Clemson after numerous students reported that he jumped up on a table on campus and shouted a sexually charged phrase that was deemed by interim university president Garnett S. Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox as “offensive and vulgar.”

Earlier this week, Cornwell said that Winston would cooperate in a Florida State investigation of the alleged rape. That announcement came nine months after Florida State administrators first attempted to question Winston about it. At that meeting last January, FOX Sports reported earlier this year, Winston declined to answer any questions, citing the advice of his attorney.

Winston was not charged with a crime and has never spoken publicly about what occurred early that Friday morning at his Tallahassee apartment. Tim Jansen, his attorney in Tallahassee, said after tests found Winston’s DNA on the woman’s clothing that the two had a consensual sexual encounter — something lawyers for the woman refuted.

Florida State’s investigation, which has been ongoing since at least early August, is being carried out at the same time the school itself is the subject of a federal investigation into its handling of the incident. That investigation is looking at whether Florida State followed the provisions of the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX.

At the center of the case is the woman’s allegation that she’d gone drinking at a Tallahassee nightspot, downed a shot that someone had purchased for her, ended up in a cab with several people and ultimately found herself in an unfamiliar apartment. There, she said she was raped, then driven back to campus on a scooter by her attacker.

She told investigators she did not know the man.

A little more than a month later, the woman called a detective and identified Winston, at the time a freshman who had yet to appear in a game, after seeing him in a class.

Tallahassee police later shelved the case, contending that the woman did not want to pursue a criminal prosecution – something her attorneys have disputed – then resurrected it last November and turned it over to the office of State Attorney Willie Meggs. After conducting a new investigation, Meggs concluded there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges, citing, among other things, gaps in the woman’s memory that led some of those involved in the case to conclude that she had been drugged.

By then, Winston had burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman quarterback and taken Florida State to the top of the national polls.

This new investigation cannot lead to criminal charges, but if Winston were to be found guilty of a serious violation of Florida State’s student conduct code, it could spell the end of his college football career.

Guidelines issued by the Department of Education contemplate a 60-day timeline for most investigations. Those guidelines also call for investigation of all incidents — regardless of whether the accuser cooperates.

At Florida State, the student conduct code prohibits everything from alcohol and drug abuse to sexual misconduct, which it defines in several ways. For instance, “any sexual act that occurs without the consent of the victim” constitutes sexual misconduct.

Punishment can include a suspension from school for up to two years, dismissal from school for at least two years and as many as seven years and outright expulsion.