TALLAHASSEE — Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston will not be charged with sexually assaulting a woman who accused him of raping her about a year ago, a prosecutor said today.
State Attorney Willie Meggs made the announcement at a news conference, saying there was not enough evidence to win a conviction.
“After reviewing all the evidence in the case, we did not feel like we could meet that burden,” Meggs said.
All prosecutions are “a search for the truth,” he told reporters at the Leon County Courthouse. “We did so in this case.”
The decision means Winston will play Saturday when the top-ranked Seminoles play Duke in the ACC championship game.
Winston, 19, issued a written statement thanking “family, friends, coaches and teammates.” He took a 1 p.m. exam and was scheduled to be at practice later today.
“It's been difficult to stay silent through this process, but I never lost faith in the truth and in who I am,” Winston said. “I'm very relieved I'll be able to continue my education at Florida State and I'm excited I can now get back to helping our team achieve its goals.”
The woman's attorney, Patricia Carroll of Dade City, commended Meggs' office and bashed Tallahassee police for the “inordinate delay” in initially investigating the case.
The woman “had the courage to immediately report her rape to the police and she relied upon them to seek justice,” Carroll said in a statement.
But her client now has “grave concerns that her experience, as it unfolded in the public eye and through social media, will discourage other victims of rape from coming forward and reporting.”
FSU issued a statement after Meggs' announcement to say Winston's status with the school remains unchanged.
“I would like to point out that our community and our university are blessed to have really good people in place to review matters like this,” said FSU Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. “I know Jameis is pleased he can focus on being a student at a great university.”
Meggs said one of the biggest problems was the complainant's memory, despite her testing negative for drugs and having only a 0.04 blood alcohol level.
“Her recall was moving around quite a bit,” he said, adding that she was otherwise cooperative.
“These cases are always tough to do,” Meggs said. “To say there was reluctance, there's always reluctance. That's the nature of sexual assault cases.
“I don't believe I've ever met a sexual battery victim that was excited” about coming forward, he said.
Meggs also confirmed there was a second DNA sample found on the woman's clothes, which investigators later linked to her boyfriend.
Tim Jansen, Winston's attorney, said that evidence contradicts her statement that she had sex with only one person the night of the incident.
Jansen also was asked why the woman would subject herself to a sexual assault examination if the encounter was consensual. He has said Winston had consensual sex with the accuser.
“Sometimes you have regret, sometimes you have embarrassment,” he said. Among college students, “...unfortunately, sometimes one night stands happen.”
Jansen also said eyewitness accounts contradict the woman's story, including some who saw Winston and the woman in an apartment and said whatever happened appeared consensual.
The woman “was perfectly fine, communicating, texting her friends,” Jansen said of that evidence. He said it was “a good bet” that those witnesses were also football players.
He also denied that any sexual intercourse took place, instead referring to it as “sexual activity.” He did not elaborate.
A search warrant from January, released hours before Meggs' news conference, detailed the accusations in the case for the first time.
The woman told police she and friends had five to six shots at a bar and her “memory is very broken from that point forward.” She said she remembered being in a cab with a “non-descript” black man and going into an apartment where she was raped.
The woman didn't identify Winston, who is black, until about a month after the incident.
The details of the allegations were contained in a search warrant for cellphone records, including text messages. It was dated Jan. 16, six days after the woman identified Winston.
The warrant said she tried to fight the man off, and at some point, another man came into the room and told him to stop. But the two went into a bathroom “where he completed the act.”
Her next memory was of the man dressing her, putting her on a scooter and dropping her off at a campus intersection. She said she had no idea where the alleged assault took place.
Jansen said he was not aware that Winston owns or has access to a scooter: “He does not have any vehicle.”
The accuser's family and Carroll have been sharply critical of the way Tallahassee police have handled the case. The case was placed on inactive status in February and not turned over the Meggs' office until about two weeks ago.
In the short time since Meggs' office took over the case, investigators have taken DNA from Winston, interviewed the alleged victim and looked at other evidence.
The woman reported the incident to police on Dec. 7, 2012. Her family has said she did not know the identity of her attacker until early January.
Police said last week that they tried to interview Winston in January but that Jansen at the time told them his client would not answer questions.
The woman's family said they pushed to have a DNA sample taken from Winston, only to be told by a police detective that it would alert Winston and make the case public.
The family said Carroll was warned by police that Tallahassee is a “big football town, and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.”
Tallahassee police have defended their handling of the case and said it was placed on inactive status after police were told the accuser did not wish to prosecute the case. Carroll has denied that the woman wanted to drop the investigation.
The accuser, who lives in the Tampa Bay area, was an FSU student, but she left school last month, according to reports.
Winston has led the Seminoles to a No. 1 ranking and a shot at a national championship if they defeat Duke.
“Based on this afternoon's announcement by the state attorney, Jameis Winston's status as a Florida State University student athlete remains unchanged,” said FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox. “We have been respectful, impartial, and fully cooperative in the legal process that has now run its course.”
Many Heisman Trophy voters were waiting to see whether Winston will be charged before casting ballots, which are due Monday.
Shortly after Meggs' news conference, a group of football fans stood outside the courthouse, each with a letter of Winston's first name painted on their chests. They then started the FSU chant and did the tomahawk chop as drivers honked horns in support.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.