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No charges against FSU quarterback Jameis Winston

TALLAHASSEE — Sometime between a 1 p.m. test and an afternoon football practice, Florida State star quarterback Jameis Winston heard the news from his attorney.

Winston would not face charges from a sexual assault investigation that began almost a year ago and exploded into one of the biggest stories in college football.

"We believed from Day 1 in December that this was a consensual act between Mr. Winston and a young woman," said Winston's attorney, Tim Jansen. "We believed it in December. We believed it in February, and we believe it today."

And State Attorney Willie Meggs said his office didn't have enough evidence to show otherwise.

Meggs wouldn't say whether the decision he announced Thursday afternoon vindicated the Heisman Trophy front-runner or if his investigation merely lacked enough evidence for a conviction.

"We have a duty as prosecutors to only file those charges if we have a reasonable likelihood of a conviction," Meggs said. "After reviewing all of the evidence in the case, we did not feel that we could meet that burden."

Jansen provided eyewitness testimony from two of Winston's teammates — Chris Casher and Ronald Darby — who corroborated Winston's story by saying the sex was consensual.

Meggs said the accuser's testimony was also "problematic" in bringing charges.

"Her recall of the events that night have been moving around a good bit," Meggs said. "There's some memory lapses. There's some major issues."

And Meggs said there wasn't enough evidence to explain them. His office double-checked toxicology reports, which showed no signs of drug use. Her blood alcohol level at the time was estimated at 0.10 — over the 0.08 threshold at which Florida law presumes that someone is unable to safely drive a motor vehicle, but not extreme. Although a friend of the woman said the accuser had been hit on the head, there were no signs of head trauma.

"She had no drugs in her system whatsoever," Jansen said. "She was not intoxicated. … Her story just does not add up."

The woman's Dade City-based attorney, Patricia Carroll, was not available for comment. But she released a statement from the family of the accuser that said they fear the woman's experience will keep others from reporting sexual assaults. The Tampa Bay Times does not generally name victims or suspected victims of sex crimes.

"The victim and her family appreciate the State Attorney's efforts in attempting to conduct a proper investigation after an inordinate delay by the Tallahassee Police Department," the family said. "The victim in this case had the courage to immediately report her rape to the police and she relied upon them to seek justice."

The woman's family, and Meggs early on, had repeatedly criticized Tallahassee police for their response to an incident reported in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 2012. The family has asked why Winston's DNA wasn't collected as soon as she identified him as a suspect a month later. Meggs has questioned whether police could have identified Winston sooner and why his office didn't see the high-profile case until Nov. 13.

But on Thursday, Meggs said criticizing Tallahassee police would serve no purpose and he wouldn't investigate. He declined to speculate on whether he would have reached the same conclusion if he had been informed of the case 11 months sooner.

"We might have had some additional facts earlier, or there might have been some better memories," Meggs said. "It certainly would have been nice to know all the things we know now back in December."

Meggs' decision drew national attention. ESPN broadcast both news conferences live. Meggs spoke in front of at least 20 cameras and a jam-packed conference room at the Leon County Courthouse.

When Jansen made his comments in front of dozens of reporters outside the courthouse an hour later, a few fans wearing Winston's No. 5 jersey watched. One set of men wearing jean shorts spelled out "Jameis" on their bare chests, and Jansen's news conference was interrupted by honking cars with drivers doing the Tomahawk Chop out the window. Someone asked Jansen if the accuser's family had ties to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The huge following came because of Winston's newfound fame and the announcement's timing.

When Winston was named as the suspect, he was a former five-star recruit and the top quarterback in the class of 2012, but he hadn't played a down at FSU. A year later, he's a star. He has passed for about 3,400 yards and a school-record 35 touchdowns while helping the Seminoles finish their first 12-0 season since winning the 1999 national title.

Thursday's ruling came a few hours before Winston and the 'Noles were scheduled to fly to Charlotte, N.C., for Saturday's ACC Championship Game against No. 20 Duke. Meggs said football didn't factor into his decision and that he had to finish fact-finding this week before making an announcement.

"The lab doesn't work on my schedule or yours," Meggs said.

His announcement also comes four days before voters must submit their Heisman ballots to honor the most outstanding player in college football. Winston is the top contender for the award, and the lack of criminal charges seemed to boost his standing even more.

"I hope the voters realize that he's never been charged," Jansen said.

The case closed Thursday, almost a year after it began. Jansen said Winston's family — who paid for his services and not FSU — has considered filing a lawsuit because of the damage to his reputation, while Meggs said no charges are expected against anyone, including the accuser. The woman's attorney has not said whether the family will pursue a lawsuit.

Winston didn't speak publicly, but Jansen said his client hugged him after he delivered the news.

"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 in a statement through his attorney. "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."

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

No charges against FSU quarterback Jameis Winston 12/05/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 5, 2013 11:27pm]
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