Heisman Frontrunner Escapes Charges In Sexual Assault Investigation

Florida State QB Jameis Winston will avoid jail and criminal charges.

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

The Florida Attorney’s Office in Tallahassee announced Thursday no charges would be filed against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in connection with a sexual assault investigation dating back to December 2012.

“We carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be filed against anyone in this case,” State Attorney Willie Meggs said today during a press conference in his office. “We have a duty as prosecutors to only file those charges if we have a reasonable likelihood of a conviction. After reviewing all of the evidence in the case, we did not feel that we could meet that burden.”

Prosecutors released 86 pages of documents related to the investigation, most of them affidavits containing statements from the accuser and witnesses, including Winston’s teammates and former roommates Ronald Darby and Chris Casher.

The alleged sexual assault was first reported to Tallahassee police last December, only two days shy of a year ago. The accuser’s family has said she did not know the identity of her attacker until early January, when she identified him as Winston.

The Tallahassee Police Department faced criticism for its handling of the investigation after the alleged victim’s attorney said a detective attempted to discourage them from pursuing the case. Tallahassee police have denied this accusation.

The alleged victim was an FSU student during the December incident, but she left school after her attorney was told by police that information about the case was about to be released to the media.

In a statement released after Meggs’ press conference, Patricia Carroll, the alleged victim’s attorney, thanked the State Attorney’s office for a “proper investigation,” but expressed worry about the message sent by the public reaction to her accusation.

“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,” the statement read.

Winston, who was named the ACC player of the year Wednesday, is also considered the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top college football player.

Many voters had said they’re waiting to see whether Winston will be charged in the case before casting a ballot. Ballots are due by Monday.

Chris Huston, operator of website Heisman Pundit, predicts Winston will now roll to a landslide win.

“This decision clears the way for voters to pick Winston, provided he and FSU do not lay an egg in the ACC title game against Duke on Saturday,” Huston said. “He should win by a substantial margin in the vote and sweep at least 5 of the 6 regions in the vote.”

Kari Chisholm of Stiff Arm Trophy, another website dedicated to coverage of the Heisman race, remained uncertain about Winston’s chances for a large victory.

“The prosecutor also didn’t completely clear Winston either. So, in many ways, nothing’s changed,” Chisholm. “Some voters will see fire where there’s smoke, and decline to vote for him. Others will take an only-the-field approach, and happily vote for him. The question for Winston is: How many of each kind of voter are there?”

Most voters contacted by BuzzFeed this afternoon indicated Winston would remain near the top of their ballots, if not already the top choice.

“Yes he is No. 1 on my ballot,” said Scott Ferrell of the Shreveport (La.) Times. “Barring a five-pick loss to Duke, that shouldn’t change.”

If Winston had been charged with a felony, he would have been suspended under a university policy mandating that student-athletes be removed from game action until criminal charges are resolved “absent extraordinary circumstances as determined by the administration.”

Winston has led the Seminoles to a No. 1 ranking and into the ACC championship game on Saturday. If the Seminoles win Saturday, they’re virtually guaranteed a berth into the BCS national championship game.

UPDATE - Dec. 5, 2:45 p.m., ET: Updated with statement from alleged victim’s attorney.

UPDATE - Dec. 5, 6:30 p.m., ET: Updated throughout.

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