Heisman voters can breathe easy: A Florida prosecutor announced that he would not bring sexual-assault charges against Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston.
State attorney Willie Meggs made the announcement in a news conference Thursday afternoon, just four days ahead of the deadline for Heisman Trophy voting; Winston is considered an overwhelming favorite. Meggs was quick to stress that his announcement was not influenced by the vote.
"Our timing should not or has not been driven by any Heisman demands or football schedule," Meggs said.
He was also careful not to say outright whether he believed a sexual assault had taken place, but repeatedly stated that he wasn't charging Winston because he didn't think he had sufficient evidence to guarantee a guilty verdict.
"We have a duty as prosecutors to only file those charges if we have a reasonable likelihood of a conviction," Meggs said. "After reviewing all of the evidence in the case, we did not feel that we could meet that burden."
The news conference did little to answer the questions surrounding the timing of the investigation and accusations of misconduct by the Tallahassee Police Department. It's taken almost a year to arrive at this point; the allegations were brought on Dec. 7, 2012, by a 19-year-old FSU student. The woman identified Winston as her attacker on Jan. 10, and DNA found on her underwear from the rape kit confirmed that the two had had sex. By February, the case was classified as open but inactive.
Tallahassee police officials claim the case stalled because the victim "changed her mind" about bringing charges against Winston. The woman's family suggested that this sudden turnabout could have been the result of intimidation tactics by the police, specifically Detective Scott Angulo who, according to the family, said "Tallahassee was a big football town" and that "she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable."
With delays in obtaining Winston's DNA and in testing the victim's blood-alcohol level, there are few things we know for certain.
One is how utterly inept the Tallahassee police were in carrying out this investigation. Whether this was a case of willful incompetence in favor of a local star is up for debate, but it seems highly likely, especially given how swiftly the police department has conducted rape investigations in the past. And look no further than State College, Pennsylvania, to find an entire town whose educational and municipal authorities were willing to overlook blatantly criminal conduct in the face of a successful athletic program.
Two is who will be taking home the Heisman this year.