10:16 PM EST, December 5, 2013
The full story involving Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston might not be known for months. It might not ever fully be known.
A report released Thursday by the Tallahassee Police Department was graphic, disturbing and contradictory. It was filled with laboratory analysis, statements by the alleged victim and countering affidavits from Winston's teammates.
Accusations have been made and civil suits have been threatened.
An alleged victim says she was raped by Winston on Dec. 7, 2012, at his apartment, long before anyone knew he would become this year's favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
Winston said the sex was consensual. There was alcohol involved, but how much? Did it impair behavior and recollections?
The police department closed the matter early last year and did not pass it along to the state attorney until Nov. 13.
Willie Meggs, the state attorney, said it would have helped to have the case earlier, but he did not cast aspersions on the police department's motives. "That's something others have to decide," Meggs said.
In the end, Meggs determined there was not enough evidence to reasonably expect a conviction. "We did not feel we could meet that burden," he said.
Meggs did not exonerate Winston and said of the woman, "Very little can be profited by disparaging the victim in this case."
Meggs also said, "She can't remember some things, and that's a problem."
Tim Jansen, Winston's lawyer, celebrated the decision that allowed Winston to board the Florida State team plane en route to Charlotte for Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference title game against Duke.
"He did nothing that was improper," Jansen said of Winston. "…this was a consensual encounter. We believed it then, we believe it now."
Winston released a statement that read in part, "It's been difficult to stay silent through this process, but I never lost faith in the truth and in who I am. I'm very relieved I'll be able to continue my education at Florida State and I'm excited I can now get back to helping our team achieve its goals."
The alleged victim's attorney had a different take on the announcement.
"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."
So, in lieu of new evidence or a confession, we can get back to football. This story about Jameis Winston, for now, is over.
Case closed? "Yes it is," Meggs said.
Winston, had he been charged with a felony, would immediately have been ruled ineligible by Florida State and his Heisman chances would have been gravely imperiled.
Because Winston was not charged, Florida State has been cleared for national title takeoff. Many Heisman voters had their consciences cleared enough to pull the lever for Winston in advance of next Monday's voting deadline.
One Heisman voter, on the fence before Thursday's ruling, said he was now leaning toward casting his first-place vote for Winston. "I'm going back and forth in my head," the voter said. "Probably. I'm more inclined to give him the benefit of doubt." The voter didn't want to be identified knowing the Heisman Trust has threatened to pull the votes of those who publicly discuss their intentions.
The voter called back a half-hour later after reading the police report and was disturbed by its contents. He was waffling again.
Thursday was a good day for Florida State and Winston. It was also a good day for Heisman voters, who won't have to worry about voting for a player who may end up convicted of a felony.
Voters can still weigh character into their final decisions but can do so knowing a lot of Heisman winners have not been choirboys. There was once a winner held liable in a civil court for the brutal slaying of two people. That winner, O.J. Simpson, got to keep his trophy.
Thursday was a relief for college football in the selfish sense there is no immediate cloud hanging over this year's Bowl Championship Series title game. Florida State might have defeated Duke on Saturday without Winston and left BCS voters to decide Sunday whether a team without its star quarterback deserved to play in the championship game.
In the long run, Thursday might not be remembered as a good day for society or college football.
The relief that our college football weekend was not ruined by a convoluted legal case may be remembered as myopic. However, the state attorney removed that immediate burden from our collective shoulders. Blame him for allowing us to go about our daily college football lives.
Thursday was the day Winston got back on board and Florida State got back in business.
"I think justice was served," Winston's lawyer said.
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. It felt more like justice was dealt.
Stan Wilcox, Florida State's athletic director, said the words all Seminoles fans were waiting to hear: "Jameis Winston's status as a Florida State University student athlete remains unchanged."
Winston's status outside the campus is still up for debate.
For many, it changed a lot.
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