- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Nearly a year after Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of rape by a female FSU student, the state attorney has decided not to charge the Heisman Trophy favorite.
Thursday's decision clears the way for Winston to finish the season with the No. 1 Seminoles.
Willie Meggs, the state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, announced the move during a news conference at the Leon County Courthouse. Winston had faced felony charges after being accused of sexually assaulting the woman at an off-campus apartment on Dec. 7, 2012.
"We've carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be filed against anyone in this case," Meggs said.
Meggs and his office had been investigating the case for the past three weeks, and they interviewed the accuser about two weeks ago. Last month, ESPN.com reported that DNA found in the woman's underwear matched Winston's. His attorney, Tim Jansen of Tallahassee, said Winston had consensual sex with the woman. But the woman's attorney, Patricia Carroll of Tampa, Fla., said Winston raped her 19-year-old client, who withdrew from classes after the allegations resurfaced in media reports last month.
"We have a duty as prosecutors to determine if each case has a reasonable likelihood of conviction," Meggs said. "After reviewing the facts in this case, we do not feel that we can reach those burdens."
While the case could be reopened if new evidence is found, Meggs indicated that he "had no earthly idea what that would be."
Carroll released a statement shortly after Meggs spoke.
"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 statement 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 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."
After hearing Meggs' decision, Jansen said of his client: "He's absolutely innocent, and I'm glad and pleased that Willie did a full investigation and found the same thing we did. There's no evidence. He could not go forward with any charges."
He also said that he had spoken to Winston.
"He was really happy. He's relieved it's over, and now he's focused even more on football," Jansen said.
Winston also released a statement, saying: "It's been difficult to stay silent through this process, but I never lost faith in the truth and in who I am."
Jansen said that Winston's legal team has considered legal action.
"His reputation is important to him," he said. "His career is important to him." He added that certain organizations have done improper things, without naming those organizations.
Earlier, Meggs was asked whether Winston, possibly the most identifiable player in college football this year, received preferential treatment in the case.
"We try to treat everyone fairly, and I think we have a track record of doing that," he said.
Meggs wouldn't say whether his decision was a vindication for Winston, saying he would "leave that to you all after you review the facts."
He did reveal some new information, saying that while Winston's DNA was present in the sexual assault kit, the DNA of another male was also found, complicating the investigation. That person was identified as the accuser's boyfriend, and he was not associated with the complaint, Meggs said.
Meggs added that the accuser had no outward signs of trauma, a key point in trying to prove an assault, and that documents related to the case were being released.
Search warrants in the case were released before Meggs' announcement and indicate the woman told police she was raped at an apartment after a night of drinking. In the warrant, the accuser says she and friends had shots at a local bar and her "memory is very broken from that point forward."
Meggs said that toxicology reports show the accuser had a blood alcohol level of .04 and that there was no evidence of drugs, including what are commonly referred to as date rape drugs.
According to the warrants, the accuser says she remembers being in a cab with a man and going into an apartment before she was raped. Meggs said investigators could not find the cab driver, the attempt made much more difficult by the time that had elapsed before his office began investigating.
After that, the accuser said she remembers the suspect dressing her, putting her on a scooter and dropping her off at an intersection, but she had no idea where the alleged rape occurred.
"Her recall of the events of that night have been moving around quite a bit," Meggs said.
Meggs described the accuser as being as forthcoming as she could be but that she did want to protect "herself, her family, her own name," which he said is not uncommon in sexual assault investigations. The accuser's lack of recall proved to be another critical aspect in the state's decision not to move forward, Meggs said.
Meggs said he didn't think prosecutors could put the accuser on the stand and "count on her to prove elements of a crime."
After praising Meggs for his investigation, Jansen said he wished Meggs had spoken about the affidavits from witnesses who refuted the accuser's claims. He said that three other men were present in the apartment where the accuser said she was raped. When asked whether those were also football players, he said that was a "good bet."
Two of Winston's teammates backed his story in statements they gave last month to an investigator for Jansen. The statements were part of an investigative file released Thursday.
Once at the apartment, the teammates said they peeked through Winston's bedroom door and saw the woman having sex with the quarterback. At one point, Casher said, he "busted into the room to embarrass Jameis" and the woman yelled at him to "get out."
In a later interview with police, Casher changed this part of his story, saying he went into the room because he hoped the woman would also have sex with him, something he said had happened in the past when he and Winston brought a woman to the apartment.
Casher left the room and was not accused of having sex with the woman, and no other women have made accusations against Casher or Darby.
If Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., had been charged with a felony, he would have been immediately suspended from the team and ineligible for competition under FSU athletic department policy. Now, Winston can finish the season with the Seminoles, who are heavy favorites to defeat No. 20 Duke in Saturday night's ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C.
With one more victory, the Seminoles (12-0) would punch their ticket to the Jan. 6 Vizio BCS National Championship.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
"As you might imagine, I was pleased to hear that the state attorney's office exonerated Jameis in the matter. I'm not going to answer any questions about the situation, but 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. I know Jameis is pleased he can focus on being a student at a great university and he's excited about helping our team achieve its goals this year. Right now, we're all looking forward to what we have in front of us on Saturday."
Fisher later said he addressed the team before practice Thursday and told it no charges were filed against Winston, who was in attendance.
"Yes he was," the coach said. "He's preparing very well, and you see the same guy leading his teammates and happy to be on the field."
Asked how the freshman quarterback handled the situation so well, the coach said, "He's very mature. He has ability, he has strength in his beliefs and what he does, and he's very mature that way. A lot of grown-ups can't do that. He can prioritize and compartmentalize when he has to do something."
The accuser initially reported the alleged rape to FSU police on the night in question. Because the incident took place off campus, FSU police immediately referred the case to Tallahassee police.
The woman's attorney has been critical of the way Tallahassee police handled the case from the beginning. In a statement released two weeks ago, Carroll wrote that a TPD officer told her that Tallahassee is a "big football town, and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against [Winston] because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable."
Last week, Tallahassee police issued a timeline of the case and defended their handling of the investigation. According to the timeline, TPD said the woman didn't identify Winston as her alleged attacker until Jan. 10, more than a month after the incident. Tallahassee police said evidence from the woman's rape kit was sent to the state crime lab on Jan. 15, and Winston declined to be interviewed by police on Jan. 23.
In February, Tallahassee police put the case in "open/inactive" status because they said the accuser decided she didn't wish to press charges. Carroll has vehemently denied the woman ever wanted to drop the investigation.
As for the delay in the case reaching the state attorney's office, Meggs said: "Obviously it would have been somewhat better if we had all gotten into this case a little bit earlier. Time is important, and it certainly would have been nice" to know last December what prosecutors know now.
Meggs said that football discussions played no part in the investigation.
Winston, who has passed for 3,490 yards with 38 touchdowns and five interceptions in his first season as a starter, might become the second consecutive freshman to win the Heisman. Last season, Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win college football's most coveted individual honor. Many Heisman voters were waiting to learn the results of the criminal investigation before casting their ballots. The deadline for ballots to be turned in is Monday.
Without referencing Winston, Florida State president Dr. Eric Barron issued a statement saying the school's job is to educate but that it also has a "responsibility to treat students fairly and provide appropriate support."
"Recent weeks have provided a painful lesson, as we have witnessed harmful speculation and inappropriate conjecture about this situation and the individuals involved," the statement said. "As a result, we have all been hurt. A respect for the principle of due process is essential to the integrity of our community. Our commitment to each and every one of our students is unwavering and will remain our priority."
Information from ESPN.com's David Hale and The Associated Press was used in this report.