Florida State University reinstated all-American wide receiver Peter Warrick to the football team yesterday after he resolved theft charges by reaching a plea agreement that involves no jail time.
Warrick will be in uniform tonight, when the No. 1-ranked Seminoles will try to give Bobby Bowden his 300th career coaching victory by defeating Clemson, whose coach is Bowden's son, Tommy.
Warrick, former Florida State wide receiver Laveranues Coles and former Dillard's department store clerk Rachel Myrtil were charged with felony grand theft after the players bought more than $400 worth of clothes for $21.40 on Sept. 29 at a Dillard's in Tallahassee. Coles, who had been involved with previous wrongdoing, was dismissed from the team. Warrick was suspended from the team under a university policy that prohibits an athlete who has been charged with a felony from playing until the case has been resolved. He missed two games.
According to the agreement with Leon County (Fla.) prosecutors, Warrick pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor petty theft charge, and his penalties include 30 10-hour days in a county public works job program that he must complete within a year--in effect, 300 hours of community service, cleaning public parks, boat landings and city and county streets.
Warrick still faces possible sanctions from the university's student judicial system, but is eligible to play unless sanctions are handed down against him, according to Mark Riordan, a university spokesman. Bobby Bowden called Warrick's return "a miracle from above." Florida State Athletic Director Dave Hart Jr. said Warrick "has paid the consequences for his mistake and then some. It's time to move past it."
The agreement followed a sometimes confusing series of events this week. It began with an apparently unnecessary offer from Warrick's lawyer under which Warrick would have served jail time in exchange for a reduced charge.
Florida State President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte balked at such a deal. And D'Alemberte received considerable pressure from fans, alumni, boosters and at least one state legislator to let Warrick play.
On Monday Warrick's lawyer, John Kenny, said he had offered prosecutors a deal under which his client would serve 30 days in jail after the season in exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. That deal stalled amid reports that D'Alemberte was uncertain about whether he would allow Warrick to play while jail time awaited him.
D'Alemberte's office was flooded with phone calls and e-mails on both sides of the issue, although the majority were critical of D'Alemberte's reported position. State senator James E. "Jim" King (R), chairman of the appropriations committee, sent D'Alemberte a two-page memorandum criticizing his handling of the matter.
On Thursday Myrtil, the former department store clerk, pleaded no contest to grand theft and was sentenced to two years' probation, 10 days in a county work program, was ordered to pay $308 in court costs and stay out of Dillard's department stores.
Yesterday morning, D'Alemberte finally announced he would not allow Warrick to play if Warrick was awaiting jail time. Hours later, Warrick's plea agreement was announced, and prosecutors disclosed there was no time during their negotiations with Warrick's lawyer in which they were insisting that Warrick serve jail time.
Warren Goodwin, the chief assistant state's attorney for Leon County, said yesterday that on Monday he offered Warrick's lawyer basically the same deal Myrtil accepted, but that Kenny countered with the jail term in exchange for a reduction in the charge to a misdemeanor.
"Prosecutors had never sought any time in jail" for Warrick, Goodwin said. "We wanted to make sure the disposition was similar . . . to similarly situated defendants."
Goodwin said Warrick received 20 more days in the jobs program than Myrtil did as a trade-off for reducing the charge against Warrick to a misdemeanor from a felony.
Kenny was quoted in yesterday's editions of the Orlando Sentinel as saying he was "reluctant" to have Warrick plead guilty to a felony because "I believe that if you look at the evidence that is not something he has done."
After resolving the matter in court yesterday afternoon, Kenny told reporters in Tallahassee the settlement was fair for his client, the state, the school and fans. "He's not wearing stripes, he's not in jail, and that's a significant determining factor for the university," Kenny said.
Riordan, the university spokesman, said yesterday that if Kenny had contacted D'Alemberte earlier, he would have been told that the original plea offer from the prosecutor was acceptable to D'Alemberte, who was willing to reinstate Warrick even if Warrick was pleading no contest to a felony.
D'Alemberte's office released a copy of an e-mail to athletic director Hart that was written Oct. 11.
"Please caution Bobby about raising expectations too high for Peter Warrick's return," the e-mail said. "I have an open mind but I am inclined to think that Warrick must not only negotiate a plea bargain but also get all contact with the criminal justice system behind him (including any community service or other sentence handed down)."
D'Alemberte apparently changed that position as well, telling the Miami Herald yesterday he felt that community service, a less severe punishment, could be completed at a later date.
"On reflection, the line we really ought to draw is jail," D'Alemberte told the Herald.
In a telephone interview with The Washington Post yesterday, D'Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association, said "the integrity of Florida State University" was at stake if he allowed Warrick to compete while facing jail time after the season.
"I can't think of any time I would play anybody facing jail time," D'Alemberte said. "I think that's serious business. [Fines, community service and probation are] the way the justice system deals with people who aren't guilty of gross misconduct. You have to draw the line somewhere. That's an indication to me the conduct was not that evil.
"Based on all the facts I know, this was a much more appropriate result of the justice system as I know them."