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What's to be done with Peter Warrick?
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 1999
TALLAHASSEE -- Under fire from alumni, Florida State University President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte scuttled a trip to Barbados in midflight Thursday and returned to campus to explain his recent remarks about the fate of star wide receiver Peter Warrick.
D'Alemberte, met by a handful of reporters at the Tallahassee Regional Airport about 9 p.m., defended his opposition to a deal that would have allowed Warrick to resume playing and wait until after the season to serve 30 days in jail for grand theft.
"I always feel pressure from those who care about the university," D'Alemberte said. "Do I feel I am making a wrong decision? No. I think people view this world in different ways, depending on their interests."
The fate of Warrick, once considered the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy -- college football's highest individual honor -- already was the talk of this football-crazed state. But in recent days the issue has reached a crescendo, preoccupying D'Alemberte and drawing in power brokers such as House Speaker John Thrasher and state Sen. Jim King, two of the state's biggest Seminoles fans.
Thrasher said he contacted FSU coach Bobby Bowden on Thursday. Meanwhile, D'Alemberte said he returned to Tallahassee so he could talk to Warrick, Warrick's lawyer and family and others who have raised concerns over whether the player will be allowed to return to the football team.
In e-mails to D'Alemberte, several people said they are more embarrassed by D'Alemberte's handling of the affair than Warrick's alleged theft. Some accused D'Alemberte of being loyal to the rival University of Florida Gators.
Some university supporters threatened to withdraw financial support as long as D'Alemberte remains as president.
"I recently endowed a scholarship at the University and quite frankly I'm having second thoughts about your lack of support for the (Athletic Director) and the kid himself," wrote Hamilton J. Bisbee. "He has paid many times over for what he did. Give him a chance to show you."
"Resign," some writers demanded in one-word e-mails.
A handful of letters urged him to stand firm against letting Warrick return.
Meanwhile, Warrick -- so decisive on the field -- appears unsure about his next move in court.
In a Tallahassee courtroom Thursday, Warrick's attorney, John Kenny, asked for a second continuance of a plea bargain hearing so he can seek an outcome that would win D'Alemberte's approval. Kenny said that FSU general counsel Alan Sundberg, a former member of the state Supreme Court, has told him that D'Alemberte will not let Warrick play until he first completes all conditions of his sentence.
"I've been talking to Justice Sundberg and trying to nail down exactly what they find acceptable in terms of conditions that will allow him to play again," Kenny said as he left a packed courtroom. "If I enter a plea that is acceptable to the court and acceptable to the state attorney's office but won't allow him to get back on the field, it's not going to make Peter Warrick very happy."
Circuit Judge John Crusoe rescheduled the hearing for Nov. 4, but it easily can be moved to an earlier date. The top-ranked Seminoles have four games left, not counting a bowl game, and Warrick is assured of missing at least two more games.
The crisis began earlier this month when wide receivers Warrick and Laveranues Coles were charged with grand theft after a clerk at a Dillard's department store in Tallahassee gave the players an unauthorized discount on designer clothes, letting them take $412 in clothing for $21.
Coles was immediately tossed off the team because he had been in trouble in the past, but Warrick was suspended until he could work out his legal problems. Warrick was prepared to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve 30 days in jail after the football season so he could return.
But in comments to the Tallahassee Democrat as he was leaving town earlier this week, D'Alemberte questioned whether the university should have a player on the field with a jail sentence hanging over his head.
D'Alemberte's remarks apparently caught Bowden and athletic director Dave Hart off-guard.
D'Alemberte, who became president of FSU in 1993, said he has been involved in the situation from its earliest days and thinks Hart and Bowden knew he would not allow Warrick to return with a jail sentence pending.
D'Alemberte, 66, said that he doesn't know whether his position is in disagreement with Bowden and Hart but that NCAA rules and state law put the final decision in his hands. He said he won't make a decision until Warrick has completed his business with the court.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Thrasher talked to Bowden early Thursday and hoped to contact D'Alemberte.
"We have to open some lines of communication between the president and the athletic department," Thrasher said. "I am concerned about the proportionality of the sentence -- I haven't found a single judge who thinks a 30-day sentence is appropriate for that kind of crime.
"It's a regrettable situation," Thrasher said. "I don't know that there is any clear answer."
King was more pointed. In a two-page memo to D'Alemberte written Thursday, King said the "headline grabbing disgrace" for FSU is getting even more national exposure because of D'Alemberte's comments.
"I think your decision, if you hold to it, is a wrong one," King said. "I believe the time for you to have voiced your opposition to Warrick's playing again before a jail sentence was served should have been made public way before the negotiated plea was publicized nationally."
King said Warrick has already paid dearly for his decision and reminded the president that Warrick gave up a lucrative professional football contract to return to FSU for his senior year.
Some alumni cited an editorial in USA Today calling for D'Alemberte to resign as president.
The seemingly quickest route for Warrick to return is to plead to the third-degree felony. As part of a negotiated deal, there would be no formal finding of guilt on his criminal record. But he would have to serve 10 days on the Leon County Sheriff's Office work program before he could play again.
"The state attorney believes that they can prove a felony. That's why they charged a felony," Kenny said. "I think it's a petty theft, which gives me great reservation to have Peter plead to a felony."
Another option for Warrick would be to request a speedy trial, but that might take weeks before it winds up in court. Plus, the maximum sentence for felony grand theft is five years in jail.
One precedent that is being studied is the case of former FSU player Julian Pittman.
In September 1997, Pittman pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony. A formal finding of guilt was withheld and Pittman was sentenced to 30 days in jail, five years' probation, ordered to make restitution and pay court costs and fines.
He served the time required and missed seven games before he rejoined the team. Within a year, Pittman, then a rookie for the New Orleans Saints, was charged with violating his probation.
Meanwhile, the former Dillard's clerk who rang up the 95-percent discount for Warrick and Coles pleaded no contest to a third-degree felony.
As part of a plea agreement, Rachel Myrtil, 19, has no formal finding of guilt on her record, must perform 10 days' service for the county work program, pay $308 in court costs and stay out of Dillard's. Her two-year probation can be ended after one year.
"I just want everybody to know that I'm not a bad person and I hope I can regain that honorable reputation that I worked very hard to attain," she said.
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