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Accuser’s attorney rips Winston investigation

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Published:   |   Updated: December 13, 2013 at 07:59 PM

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ZEPHYRHILLS — The attorney for a woman who accused Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston of raping her last year said Friday that her client was victimized by a shoddy investigation from the Tallahassee Police Department and a hasty conclusion to the case from the State Attorney’s office.

While Winston traveled Friday morning to New York, where he’s expected to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy tonight and bring more football glory to the No. 1-ranked Seminoles, Dade City-based lawyer Patricia Carroll called for Attorney General Pam Bondi to conduct an independent probe into the case and Tallahassee police operations.

Thirteen days after the case was forwarded to his office, on Dec. 5, State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that Winston would not be charged and that the case was closed. Meggs said he didn’t think there was enough evidence to win a conviction, partially because so much time had passed since the incident occurred.

Carroll, speaking during a 90-minute news conference conducted in the gazebo at Zephyr Park, said the incident of Dec. 7, 2012, evolved into “an investigation of the rape victim, not the rape suspect.’’ She said police failed to gather proper evidence, check for the presence of date-rape drugs or interview all material witnesses.

The accuser is an FSU student who lives in the Tampa Bay area.

Carroll said a civil suit was “premature’’ but didn’t dismiss the possibility.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the Attorney General to see how this entire investigation was handled and to see if there’s a systemic problem in the Tallahassee Police Department on how rape cases are handled when football players (are involved),’’ Carroll said.

“Do I believe that that complete failure (of the investigation) was related to the fact this gentleman was on the football team? I do, yes.’’

Had Winston, 19, been charged in the case, he immediately would have been declared ineligible based on FSU athletic policies. Meggs closed the case two days before FSU traveled to Charlotte, N.C., and won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, thus sending the Seminoles to a Jan. 6 matchup against Auburn for the national championship in Pasadena, Calif.

“Mr. Meggs should’ve done anything possible to obtain justice in this case, irrespective of how long it would take, irrespective of a football schedule,’’ Carroll said. “He said he doesn’t conduct investigations around a football schedule, but he conducted this one in 13 days and released it right before (the ACC Championship Game).

“You can put the facts together and draw your own conclusions. I’m not going to accuse Mr. Meggs of purposely (favoring a football player). But it’s clear and evident that a lot more work needed to be done.’’

Meggs didn’t immediately respond when his office was contacted for a reaction to Carroll’s news conference. Meanwhile, Tallahassee police continued to defend their handling of the case.

“The case is closed, and we continue to support Mr. Meggs as we have done throughout the process,’’ said David Northway, a spokesman for the Tallahassee Police Department.

On Friday, Bondi put out a statement saying any request for further investigation should go through the governor’s office. Gov. Rick Scott’s office put out a statement Friday evening that said, “The State Attorney’s office and (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement) did a thorough investigation of this case and they concluded that no further action on this matter is required.’’

Winston has largely remained silent. After Meggs proclaimed the case was closed, Winston issued a written statement through FSU that said, “It’s been difficult to stay silent through this process, but I never lost faith in the truth and in who I am.’’

Thursday night, after winning the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award and being named the Walter Camp All-America Player of the Year during a ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Winston was asked about the incident by ESPN.

“I know I did nothing wrong,’’ Winston said.

Otherwise, Winston has been under constant watch by FSU sports information personnel, who restrict questions exclusively to on-field subjects.

Georgia Cappleman, assistant state attorney in Leon County and the daughter of former FSU quarterback Bill Cappleman, told ESPN.com that she didn’t hear any fresh information in Carroll’s news conference.

Cappleman said the accuser had “memory lapses that are difficult to explain without the presence of drugs or high levels of alcohol. Certainly, there were going to be problems with her testimony.’’

The state’s toxicology tests showed the accuser did not have illegal drugs in her system and had a blood alcohol level of only 0.04.

But Carroll said her client’s behavior was consistent with someone who had been drugged. Carroll said her client’s blood never was tested for the presence of date-rape drugs.

“She had partial amnesia, a tremendous headache on the back of her head, nausea and vomiting, intermitant memory, immobility,’’ Carroll said. “I told Mr. Meggs, ‘I don’t have confidence in the validity of these tests. It does not comport with what was observed.’ ’’

Carroll said Meggs emphasized the discovery of a second DNA sample but said that came from the accuser’s boyfriend, who confirmed they had consensual sex before the incident occurred.

“They were trying to portray that she had sex with two different men that night and that was not true,’’ Carroll said.

Carroll said she had no confidence in Meggs’ reliance on the testimony of Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, two FSU teammates who were with Winston on the night of the incident. Carroll said Tallahassee police detective Scott Angulo failed to identify and interview the duo early in the process.

They already had been contacted by Tim Jansen, Winston’s attorney, when they were finally interviewed by the state in November.

Carroll said she was told the accuser made 48 phone calls after the incident, seemingly indicating she was carrying on normally. But Carroll said her records indicated only 18 calls, six to the accuser’s parents and six to what she called outcry witnesses, one of whom described the accuser as “hysterical.’’

Carroll also released a series of text messages from Bria Henry, a friend of the accuser, to Kristen Brady, a cheerleading coach at Zephyrhills High School. Henry messaged that the accuser said she had just been raped in Tallahassee and was afraid to call her mom. Brady messaged Henry back, saying she had informed the accuser’s mother.

“I’m not going to attack the character of the victim, but I will certainly say that she’s a college student in a bar under age,’’ said Carroll, referring to the night of the incident. “She was ashamed of that. She didn’t want her parents contacted. She was fearful she did something wrong.

“You have a rape victim who’s vulnerable, under age, somewhere where she’s not supposed to be, a perfect target, you see. …(But) if you’re asking me about judgment of going to the bar, it was pretty consistent with the judgment of the other 500 people at the bar that night.’’

After her initial dealings with Angulo, Carroll said she suspected “something fishy was going on’’ and said the family began to feel like they were taking on the entire Tallahassee Police Department. With Carroll still awaiting toxicology results and the accuser never saying she wanted to drop the case, Angulo made the case inactive in February. It was revived in November when media outlets were tipped off and began to investigate.

Carroll said the accuser, who is completing her final exams at home in a special arrangement with FSU, doesn’t regret coming forward.

“If the girl was raped, and she sought help from the police department and justice system and it failed her, the regret is not hers for coming forward, the regret lies with the system,’’ Carroll said.

Last week, ESPN nationally televised the news conference in which Meggs announced the case was closed. Some people criticized Meggs’ behavior and tone, calling it too lighthearted for such a serious matter. There was some laughter when Meggs gave flippant answers to questions.

Carroll said the accuser was with her parents, watching Meggs’ new conference.

“She cried,’’ Carroll said.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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