Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, considered the frontrunner for college football's prestigious Heisman Trophy, will not be charged in an alleged sexual assault case that had put a cloud over his season, a state prosecutor said on Thursday.
"We have a duty to only file those charges if we have a reasonable likelihood of a conviction," State Attorney Willie Meggs said at a standing-room-only news conference. "We did not feel that we could meet that burden. We do not have sufficient evidence to make the charge."
Winston has led his team to the top of the national polls as a freshman while facing scrutiny over recently surfaced accusations that he assaulted a woman in December 2012, before his college playing career began.
Winston was accused by a Florida State University student who said she was raped after a night of drinking with friends at a bar near campus.
Meggs said the woman had "memory lapses on major issues." He said Winston declined to be interviewed, although he gave a DNA sample.
Winston's attorney, Timothy Jansen, was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. Jansen has said his client had only consensual sex with his accuser.
Meggs, who is the state prosecutor for six counties in northern Florida, said repeatedly that Winston's star status and the fanatic importance of FSU football in Florida's Big Bend area did not figure into his decision. "I have not been pressured, nor have I consulted the football schedule. We worked as fast as we could," he said.
The unidentified complainant, who has withdrawn from FSU, said in a search warrant affidavit filed by Tallahassee police that she had a few drinks with friends at Potbelly's, a popular bar near campus, on Dec. 7. Her friends left and she said she remembered getting into what she thought was a cab with a man who took her to an apartment and assaulted her.
Winston's DNA was found in the woman's underwear. She did not identify Winston as her assailant until Jan. 10. City police initially marked the case "inactive" but resumed the investigation last month after news reports identified the football star as a suspect.
Meggs said laboratory reports identified a boyfriend as the source of another DNA sample also found in the woman's shorts, but she declined to identify him. He said police subsequently determined the man's identity.
The timing of the charging decision was crucial.
The Florida State Seminoles will play for the Atlantic Coast Conference title on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina. If they win, it's likely the team will play for the national collegiate title in the Rose Bowl next month.
A felony charge against Winston would have required his immediate suspension under the school's athletic department policy.
Votes for the Heisman Trophy, the annual award given to the country's best college football player, are due on Monday.
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