Tallahassee Bag Man
Florida State's Peter Warrick was a hero in Tallahassee when he passed up the NFL draft to return for his senior season. He became an embarrassment last week when he was charged with grand theft, a felony, in the mall crime of the year.
Police say that on Sept. 29 Warrick and Laveranues Coles, another Florida State receiver, got an illegal discount from Tallahassee department store sales clerk Rachel Myrtil. They paid only $10.70 for each of two bags of designer clothes worth a total of $412.38. Coles, Warrick and Myrtil were arrested eight days later.
Coles, who had previous academic and legal troubles—he had done 150 hours of community service on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting his stepmother, for one thing—was kicked off the team by coach Bobby Bowden. Warrick, who apologized on national television last Saturday before watching Florida State's 31-21 win over Miami from the sideline, has been suspended indefinitely His Heisman Trophy hopes are surely dust, but what about his hopes of rejoining the Seminoles this year? School rules say he must sit as long as he's charged with a felony.
And what of his treatment by Willie Meggs, the state's attorney who could have charged Warrick, a first offender, with a misdemeanor—as Florida State athletic director Dave Hart and many others expected—but chose grand theft instead?
Meggs insists he isn't being unduly harsh to Warrick, and longtime Tallahassee defense lawyer Bill Corry agrees. "The complicating factor is the woman in the store," says Corry. "If he had just taken some shirts and walked out, it's petty theft. But when you involve the clerk, who's supposed to protect her employer from theft, it becomes embezzlement, and that is viewed as a jail offense."
Corry sympathizes with Warrick. "He probably thought that if the clerk was willing to do this, it was just a perk," he says, "like a police officer eating in a restaurant and never getting a check. But this is serious."
Says Tallahassee defense lawyer Tom Findley, a former federal prosecutor, "[Meggs] applies the law fairly and equally, but he is tough. There are prosecutors who would have made it petty theft. Our state attorney will use his discretion toward the tough end of the spectrum." Findley thinks Warrick should either plea bargain his charge down to a misdemeanor or plead no contest to the felony. "He doesn't want to go to trial on these charges," he says.
One group of football men-crafty NFL personnel experts-sees a bright side to Warrick's trouble. "Picture this scenario," says one. "You're drafting third, and the teams drafting one and two pass on Warrick. You tell him, 'We'll take you, but your signing bonus will be minimal. Stay on the straight and narrow, and you'll get big money later.' What happened to him could help us."
ALEX LOWE 1959-1999
Death in the Himalayas