TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State departed for the ACC Championship Game Thursday night without any doubts about Jameis Winston’s future.
The Seminoles’ star quarterback will not be charged in connection with a sexual assault investigation, the state attorney’s office announced Thursday.
Winston was accused of assaulting a former female Florida State student in December 2012, although the incident did not become public knowledge until Nov. 13.
It’s logical to assume that FSU’s football program is relieved to return to a sense of normalcy. But according to Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher, the distractions of potential felony charges never impacted Winston or his teammates.
“We’re exactly the same,” Fisher said. “… (Winston) has strength in what he believes and what he does. He’s very mature in that way. A lot of grownups can’t do that. He can prioritize and compartmentalize when he has to do certain things.”
State attorney Willie Meggs informed a room stuffed with roughly 100 reporters inside the Leon County Courthouse that his office would not charge Winston.
Meggs said the evidence collected did not meet the burden of proof required to get a conviction.
“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, Tim Jansen.
Jansen said that Winston was happy but not surprised upon hearing the news Thursday afternoon.
“I can say he gave me a hug,” Jansen said. “It was not relief, because he knew he didn’t do anything.”
The investigation evolved into a national story after TMZ first reported news of Winston’s involvement in a sexual assault investigation on Nov. 13, only hours after Meggs’ office learned of the investigation.
“Time is important and it certainly would’ve been nice to know all the things we know now back in December,” Meggs said.
For three weeks, details of the investigation trickled out. Meggs, Jansen and the accuser through her attorney all criticized the Tallahassee Police Department.
Jansen was concerned that the department released a timeline of its investigation. The victim’s family was upset by the police department’s “inordinate delay” seeking witness statements and processing evidence, questioning the conduct of its investigators.
Winston’s DNA matched a sample taken from the victim’s underwear, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report released by police Thursday.
After the report was released, Jansen said Winston had consensual sexual contact with the woman.
Another strand of DNA from a male was found on the accuser’s shorts, according to Meggs. When asked if she had sexual contact with a second party, Meggs said, “that would be a logical conclusion.”
The accuser offered conflicting accounts of the sexual assault, according to Meggs, who noted there was some “memory loss.”
Meggs stated that there were no outward signs of trauma on the accuser and that toxicology reports did not indicate drugs were used the night of the incident.
The victim’s family attorney, Patricia Carroll, said in the past the woman — who was a FSU student from the Tampa area but reportedly has withdrawn from school since the case became public — was raped by Winston.
Jansen pressed Meggs to expedite the process last week, but the state attorney insisted that he would not rush the investigation.
“I know there’s been a lot of concern about the length and time we’ve taken to complete our investigation, but I want to ensure you the timing should not and (has) not been driven by Heisman demands or football schedule,” Meggs said.
Winston is considered a favorite to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy, although the investigation threatened to hinder his status as a runaway favorite.
The case is closed, according to Meggs.
However, the remnants of the investigation could still follow both parties.
“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,” Carroll said in a statement.
Jansen is afraid his client will wear a scarlet letter, stating “his reputation is important to him, his career is important to him.” Jansen said he and Winston have discussed taking legal “action on his behalf” toward “certain organizations” that “maligned him.”
A felony charge would have likely impacted Winston’s playing status. FSU’s student-athlete code of conduct prohibits athletes from competing when charged with a felony “absent extraordinary circumstances as determined by the administration.”
Instead, Winston continues to lead the Seminoles on the field.
“Based on this afternoon’s announcement by the State Attorney, Jameis Winston’s status as a Florida State University student athlete remains unchanged,” FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox said in a statement.
Like the thick fog that lingered over Tallahassee on Thursday morning, the allegations against Winston hovered over the Seminoles’ dream season. FSU is 12-0 on the year and will likely play in the BCS National Championship Game if it beats Duke in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday at 5 p.m. PST.
Now the Seminoles and Winston can move forward, unfettered.
“I think they’ve handled it tremendously,” Fisher said of the way his players coped with the investigation. “I think it’s because they believe in each other. They believe in what we’re doing here, and they want to play for each other.”