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Thursday, November 21, 2013
Next steps crucial for QB, woman

By Lester Munson
ESPN.com

What we know about a sexual assault allegation against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is confusing because of the investigation's timing, leaks of only portions of the would-be case to the media, and conflicting stories from law enforcement and lawyers from the accuser's family.

Here are some developments to watch for and the possible turning points as the investigation continues:

Aside from the expected state attorney interview Thursday of the woman who made the complaint, the next and most important step in the investigation will be a review of the medical findings made in the physical examination of Winston's accuser on the night of the incident.

The DNA report obtained by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and the acknowledgement from Winston that he had consensual sex with the woman confirms the two were together early in December. The DNA test confirms that the accuser reported the incident shortly after it happened and submitted to a medical procedure known as a "rape kit," a set of examinations and sample collections that is designed to preserve evidence for use in a trial. Emergency room nurses are specifically trained in rape kit procedures and follow them automatically whenever a patient offers a history of an assault.

Florida state attorney William Meggs will study the medical findings in an effort to determine whether the incident was a violent sexual assault or consensual sex. The nature of any injury can be the conclusive factor in a prosecutor's decision. The presence of an abrasion or laceration could indicate a violent assault, and the absence of any such injury could indicate that the sex was consensual. It is highly likely that Meggs' decision whether to charge Winston will be based on the medical records of any injury.

A vaginal injury was the basis of the rape conviction of Mike Tyson in February 1992 for which he served three years in the penitentiary. The absence of any injury was the basis for the exoneration of Mark Chmura in February 2001.

In addition to scrutinizing the medical records, Meggs will interview the accuser and attempt to interview Winston. The interview of the accuser will allow her to tell her story of what happened and will give Meggs and his staff a chance to evaluate her veracity. Seasoned prosecutors want to know how well a witness will perform in court before they file any charge.

During the interview, the prosecutors may wish to determine whether the accuser wishes to follow through on a charge. The ultimate decision on filing a charge rests with prosecutor Meggs, but he will consider the wishes of the accuser as he makes his decision. Prosecutors are reluctant to file a charge when the victim of a crime is unwilling to cooperate in the prosecution.

The accuser's refusal to cooperate was a factor in the decision not to prosecute Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2010, along with evidence of minimal injury.

Although Meggs will ask for an interview of Winston, Winston is not obligated to respond to the prosecutor. Winston's attorneys will delay their decision on an interview with Meggs as long as possible as they gather as much evidence as they can. Armed with available evidence, Winston and his attorneys will hope to avoid falling into any prosecution traps, intended or not. The likelihood is that Winston will say that he is cooperating and then refuse to answer any questions.

The other factors that Meggs will consider as he makes his decision will be the length of time Winston and the accuser were together; the brutality, if any, of the sex act; and the testimony of anyone who saw the accuser immediately after the incident. The post-incident witnesses, known as outcry witnesses, can be critical. If the accuser was in a state of shock after the incident, it will push Meggs toward a decision to prosecute.

There may be dramatic statements from people involved in the incident or on the fringes of the investigation, but the rape kit, interviews by the state attorney and outcry witnesses are the factors that will determine whether Winston is charged.