By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News
Jameis Winston, the sensational quarterback of the top-ranked Florida State University football team and the leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy, was cleared Thursday in a sexual assault investigation.
A state prosecutor in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, made the announcement. He stressed that the decision was not driven “by any Heisman demands or football schedule.”
Under school policy, Winston almost certainly would have been suspended from the team had he been charged. Florida State plays Duke on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference title and can secure a spot in the national championship game with a win.
Heisman Trophy voters have until Monday to turn in their ballots, and some were said to be waiting to see whether Winston is charged with a crime.
The case, stemming from an encounter a year ago, has hovered over Winston and the Seminoles throughout the football season. A lawyer for Winston has suggested that he and the accuser had consensual sex. Her family has said that it was rape.
“We came to the decision that it was not a case that we could bring forward,” the prosecutor said. “We would not have the burden of proof, the probable cause and the reasonable likelihood of a conviction.”
Meggs said that no charges would be filed against anyone in the case. He said that the case was closed.
“We need to handle each case equally and fairly, and it’s a search or the truth,” he said. “We did so in this case.”
A DNA sample from Winston matched a sample from the woman’s underwear, Meggs said. But he said that DNA from a second man was found, and had the case gone to trial, “having an unknown DNA in a sexual assault kit would be a problem.” He said that the second man was not a Florida State football player.
Meggs said that the woman’s memory of the night of the alleged assault had been “moving around a good bit.” He said that there were not inconsistencies in her story, just memory lapses. He also said that there was no evidence of “major impairment or use of drugs.”
Winston, 19, planned to address reporters at 3:30 p.m. in Tallahassee, before the Seminoles leave for the conference championship game. His lawyer, Timothy Jansen, told The Associated Press earlier, speaking of the prosecutor: “If he looked at the evidence we did, we feel confident he will find that Mr. Winston did nothing wrong.”
The assault was reported to the police Dec. 7, 2012. The accuser identified Winston as a suspect more than a month later, on Jan. 10. Tallahassee police have said that the woman’s lawyer canceled a planned meeting with investigators the next day.
The woman’s family sharply criticized the Tallahassee police for their handling of the investigation.
The family has said that Patricia Carroll, a lawyer for the accuser, was warned by police that Tallahassee is a “big football town” and that the woman needed to think hard about pressing charges because “she will be raked over the coals.” Winston has been touted as a future star since he chose to attend Florida State, ending a huge recruiting fight for his football talents.
Tallahassee police took 11 months to refer the case to prosecutors. The police have defended their handling of the investigation, and said that it was classified as inactive in February because police were told that the woman wanted to drop it.
Winston was named ACC player of the year and rookie of the year earlier this week. He set ACC freshman records with 3,490 passing yards and 35 touchdowns.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.