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Tomorrow night, star quarterback Jameis Winston will lead the Florida State Seminoles against Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. It's a big deal, mainly because Winston's participation was in doubt until yesterday. That's when a Florida prosecutor announced he would not charge Jameis Winston with a felony. A young woman had accused the player of rape after a sexual encounter a year ago. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Never has so much been said about something that didn't happen.
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UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: ...And today, the ruling that Jameis Winston will not be charged by the state attorney's office. We have this story covered from all angles...
GOLDMAN: ESPN was one of many media outlets focused on a case that generated attention way beyond Tallahassee. This involved college football's breakout star - the front-runner for the Heisman trophy; the player poised to lead Florida State into the national championship game.
There is no bigger drama in a sports- and entertainment-fueled world than a celeb in trouble. But prosecutor Willie Meggs said yesterday he and his investigators always were focused on what happened rather than who was involved.
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WILLIE MEGGS: We try to treat everyone the same. and I think we have a record of doing that over the last 29 years that I've been state attorney. We prosecute the cases that we have evidence on, and we'll continue to do that.
GOLDMAN: But not this case. Meggs says clear-cut evidence of a sexual assault wasn't there. A document released yesterday includes Winston's accuser's initial statement to Tallahassee police about the alleged assault on Dec. 7th of last year. The young woman says she and friends were at a bar doing shots when the alcohol started to get to her, and her memory became, quote, "very broken." Meggs says that lack of memory continued to be a problem when his investigation began last month.
MEGGS: Her recall of the events of that night have been moving around a good bit.
GOLDMAN: He says toxicology reports showed drugs and alcohol weren't a factor in the accuser's memory lapses. Another key obstacle for prosecutors - affidavits from two witnesses who said they saw part of what happened and it didn't include a sexual assault. Meggs considers the criminal case closed. Winston's attorney, Tim Jansen - shifting from defense to offense - said yesterday civil lawsuits by Winston are a possibility.
TIM JANSEN: Certain organizations and certain statements have been made that maligned him, that we believe were not proper - and improper.
GOLDMAN: Winston's accuser wasn't backing down, either. Her attorney said in a statement the accuser, quote, "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."
Legal expert Michael McCann tells sportsillustrated.com the accuser has several possible options for civil action: a personal injury lawsuit against Winston; a civil rights claim against the Tallahassee Police Department, which some critics say dragged its feet after the initial complaint. Michael McCann.
MICHAEL MCCANN: And he or she would say that her account was deprived because the police department - at least, in her view - went out of its way to make life difficult for her.
GOLDMAN: Including a detective who, according to the accuser's lawyer, discouraged the accuser from pursuing the case because Tallahassee was a big football town. And it was again yesterday. FSU students reportedly did the Seminoles' tomahawk chop after Meggs' announcement. And the fan celebration may continue over the next week with a possible ACC title, and Heisman trophy winner, to call their own.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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