By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A hearing on the future of 10 suspended gopher football players is happening at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School.

The two-day hearing is in front of a three-member student sexual misconduct subcommittee. The 10 players accompanied by their attorneys and families arrived at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School at about 1:30 p.m.

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In addition to suspensions, five of the students face expulsion over the sexual assault of a female student in one of the player’s dorm rooms in September.

The hearing is closed to the public before a panel that is reportedly made up of two undergraduates and one graduate student. The 10 students are appealing their suspensions and expulsions, and the panel has the power to uphold or overturn the university’s decisions.

Antoine Winfield Jr. arrived first — he has his own attorney, Ryan Pacyga, who stresses Winfield denies any sexual contact with the victim and that the victim’s own statements about him have been contradictory.

“She thinks perhaps she gave him oral sex or not — she can’t be sure,” Pacyga said. “We’re hoping that his name gets cleared, at least in terms of the university.”

The other nine players are all represented by attorney Lee Hutton. The allegations against them vary greatly, and range from those who had sexual contact with the woman to those who were witnesses and allegedly encouraged the activity.

“The university told me I have 31.6 minutes to prove my case for each of the guys,” Hutton said. “That’s it.”

When the incident happened in September, four players were immediately suspended. They were later reinstated, and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office declined to criminally prosecute.

It was in December that the university announced the 10 suspensions, leading to a short-lived boycott by the entire team, widespread national news coverage and the eventual firing of head coach Tracy Claeys.

“I’m fearful we won’t get a fair trial,” Hutton said. “When it comes to young black men, it is very easy for the public to jump to conclusions.”

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Both the victim and two of her friends as well as most of the players are expected to testify. Thursday’s hearing started at 2 p.m. and will go until 11 p.m.

Without a word being said, the Gopher Football players accused of sexually assaulting a U of M student emerged from a private room, some alongside their parents, ready for a dinner break in the midst of their two day hearing.

“We’re here in the middle of a battle,” Pacyga said. “The panel is asking good questions. I think they’re working hard but we don’t have a way to peer in their minds.”

That panel first heard from an expert on memory and sexual assault, followed by three hours of testimony from the woman who says she was assaulted.

“I’m surprised that we learned new details in her testimony today that never came out in the police report, never came out in prior sworn court testimony and frankly didn’t even come out EEOA report,” Pacyga said.

Pacyga was also upset because he says the university wouldn’t allow a video recorded the night of the incident to be shown at the hearing as evidence.

“She’s free at liberty to completely mischaracterize what happened in that video and we don’t have an opportunity to show the panel the truth and let them decide what’s the truth,” he said.

The University’s attorney representing the student wouldn’t comment on the proceeding. With several hours left to go, the panel still needs to hear from the 10 accused football players.

“I have a little surprise that I’m waiting to show the panel about and I can’t divulge that right now but let’s just say that the issue is teed up very well for tomorrow,” said Pacyga.

Friday’s hearings are scheduled 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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The student panel has one week from Friday to announce their findings. If the players lose, they will likely take their cases to federal court.

Esme Murphy