Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Colleges

Questions remain after Winston decision

Do you cheer?

Do you applaud?

After all, the case is closed, and Jameis Winston will not be charged with sexual assault. But how does a man get his reputation back? How do you undo all of the suspicion? If Winston plays for another 20 years, eyes will still roll whenever he is discussed. A lot of people will forever believe the worst of Winston.

Do you doubt?

Do you wonder?

Yes, Thursday was a good day for Winston. State Attorney Willie Meggs concluded there was not enough evidence to take the accusations against the FSU quarterback to trial. Still, that isn't quite proclaiming Winston's innocence, is it? To many, Winston will always be the accused in one way or another. A Heisman Trophy won't change that.

Do you forgive?

Do you forget?

In many ways, this is why Thursday was such an unsatisfactory day. Yes, the case was closed, and from everything we heard, it should have been closed 10 days ago. There simply wasn't enough unshakable evidence to proceed.

In some ways, however, this doesn't quite feel like closure. We will never know the full story of what happened in that room. We will never know why police dragged their feet so bad or how it might have changed things if they had not. We will never know why the State Attorney's Office wasn't informed until November, 11 months later.

What we do know is this:

It does not seem as if there was enough evidence to convict Winston of anything.

Imagine yourself sitting on a jury for this one. You are told the accuser was not drunk, yet she has problems remembering some of the details. You are told she did not show signs of trauma to the head, nor did toxicology reports indicate drugs were involved. You are told about the two different DNA samples from her clothing. You are told he has eyewitnesses (yes, they are teammates) who back up his story that what happened was consensual.

For Meggs, that's a tough case to win.

For a prosecutor, that's the issue here. It isn't about what Meggs believes, it's about what he can prove. And I don't believe at all that Meggs was overly concerned about the FSU program. For him, it was all about evidence and witnesses and credibility. If there had been enough, charges would have been filed.

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

The more Meggs talked, the more you felt for his position. He came late into this investigation, but he seemed sincere throughout. He took care not to disparage the accuser.

Do you consider the evidence?

Do you change your mind?

That's the problem in a case such as this one. In a lot of cases, people seem to pay more attention to the accusations than to the outcome. You can shout innocent-until-proven-guilty all day long, and you can admit that if there wasn't enough evidence to satisfy the state of Florida, then there probably wasn't enough for the rest of us, either. If life was fair, no one would bring up the allegations again.

Ah, but that's not the way it works, is it? We live in the nation of O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake, and we seem quite comfortable in believing in our own verdicts. Winston doesn't show it, but you can only imagine what a miserable month this has been for the 19-year-old. The accuser's name was protected, but not his.

If you are one of Winston's supporters, today allows you to protest those sort of things. You can believe in him again without reservation. You can talk about the unfairness of it all. You can protest that if a state attorney had chosen to go to trial, then Winston would have been suspended now, not when the case went to trial and not when a verdict was heard.

In the meantime, however, it would be nice to spare a kind thought for the accuser here, too. She never backed down from the allegation that she was raped. She went straight to the police station and submitted to a rape kit.

Certainly, what is reprehensible has been the fiction written by a great many FSU fans on their message boards. There, some say that she knew Winston (Meggs said she did not), that this was some sort of vengeance on her part. As long as we're talking about the evidence that doesn't hold up, we might as well include that, too.

This, however, was Winston's day, the day he went from the accused to being somewhat a victim himself.

"When does he get his reputation back?'' said his attorney, Tim Jansen. "How does he get this off of him if he wins the Heisman or a Super Bowl?''

The short answer? He doesn't. There will always be "that rape thing'' when people talk about his college days. There will always be the suspicion that someone in authority succeeded in protecting him.

For now, there are things such as the ACC Championship Game and the Heisman and the national championship game. Suddenly, such things seem important again.

Suddenly, the cloud has disappeared over his head. Most of it, at least.

For Winston, that will have to be enough.

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