Florida State University quarterback and Heisman Trophy front-runner Jameis Winston Winston will not face sexual assault charges stemming from a year-ago incident in which a woman accused him of rape, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Tallahassee-area State Attorney Willie Meggs said the case against Winston was not sufficient to bring to trial. He pointed to problems in the accuser’s recollection of events from the encounter of nearly a year ago.
“We came to the decision that it was not a case we could bring forward because we would not have the burden of proof, the probable cause and the reasonable likelihood of a conviction,” Meggs told a packed news conference, broadcast live on ESPN.
Winston’s DNA was found in the underwear of the accuser, who at the time of Dec. 7, 2012, incident, was a 19-year-old FSU student.
The woman called police soon after their encounter and said she had been raped, although she said she did not know her assailant’s name. Winston later told investigators the two had consensual sex.
The case largely lapsed for months, raising questions about the Tallahassee Police Department’s handling of it.
But Meggs’ three-week-long investigation has played out under a glaring national spotlight, with Winston’s Heisman hopes and FSU’s national title prospects seen as hanging in the balance.
In the end, Meggs said he didn’t have “sufficient evidence to go forward.”
“Her recall of the events of that night have been moving around a good bit,” Meggs said. “There were memory lapses. There were issues.”
All told, Meggs said, “Her testimony has some problems with it … which leads us to the point we did not feel that we could move forward with it.”
Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, said the prosecutor’s decision supported his client’s long-held stance.
“We believed from Day 1 … that this was a consensual act between Mr. Winston and a young woman,” Jansen said. “We have never wavered on that.”
Jansen also said, “Her story just does not add up.”
Patricia Carroll, a Tampa-area attorney for the accuser, said in a statement that “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.”
But Carroll added, “The victim 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.”
Winston, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, has thrived on the field in his first season as FSU’s quarterback, leading 12-0 Florida State to a No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings. The Seminoles play Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday in Charlotte, N.C. A victory would put them in the BCS championship game Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
“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 released by his attorney.
FSU policy would have barred Winston from playing had he been charged with a felony in the case.
Many Heisman voters were waiting to see whether Winston would be charged with a crime before casting their ballots. The deadline for ballots is Monday, and the trophy is awarded Dec. 14.
On Thursday, a search warrant from January was released just hours before Meggs’ news conference and detailed the woman’s accusations for the first time.
She told police that she 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 “nondescript” black man before going into an apartment where she said she was raped.
Tests taken several hours after the incident revealed that the woman had a blood-alcohol level that would not render her legally intoxicated, although Meggs said that level might have been higher earlier. There also were no signs of drugs in her system, Meggs said.
Newly revealed DNA evidence showed the woman had sex with a second man on the night in question, Meggs said. He said it was a boyfriend, “but she wouldn’t tell me who her boyfriend was. But being a true investigator, we found out.”
Meggs and Jansen both indicated the situation of a second sexual partner played a crucial role in the decision not to charge.
Jansen said she had not earlier acknowledged a second encounter to investigators.
“She never indicated that,” Jansen said. “It goes back to her memory.”
He added, “She gave multiple statements … and at no point did she ever say there was more than one person” involved.
But some women’s advocates questioned the lack of charges in the case.
Joan Waitkevicz, a board member with the Palm Beach County chapter of NOW, said she did not have detailed knowledge of the Winston case, but was “very skeptical” that a woman would fabricate a rape claim.
“What would motivate someone to go to the police if she did not perceive that she had been victimized? What earthly reason would she have to put herself in that kind of trouble?” Waitkevicz said.
Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the national women’s group UltraViolet, issued a statement condemning the decision.
“It takes a lot of courage to speak out about being raped, and it doesn’t help when your rapist scores touchdowns for your college every weekend and is a national sports star,” Chaudhary said.
But at the Leon County Courthouse, within minutes of Meggs’ decision being announced, a handful of FSU students gathered to praise Winston.
“We’re just here to show our support for him,” said Zach Smith, a 22-year-old FSU senior from Boca Raton. “We’re not trying to make light of the case, or say anything bad about the accuser.
“But the court of public opinion had found Jameis guilty before he was charged with anything. That’s not right, either,” Smith said.
Post staff writers George Bennett and Tom D’Angelo and correspondent Bob Ferrante contributed to this story.