Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct from a Dec. 7, 2012 incident, the highly- publicized case against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been dismissed.
"We've carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be brought against anyone in this case," Florida state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit Willie Meggs said during Thursday's press conference. "We have a duty as prosecutors to determine if each case has a reasonable likelihood of conviction. After reviewing the facts in this case, we do not feel that we can reach those burdens."
In what has been a bizarre case from the very start, considering the Tallahassee Police Department effectively shelved the investigation until reports resurfaced in mid-November, the state concluded that, despite finding DNA at the scene that matched Winston's, the accuser's inconsistent accounts of the event would not hold up in court.
"Obviously it would have been somewhat better if we had all gotten into this case a little bit earlier," Meggs said. "Time is important and it certainly would have been nice (to have had) what we know now (last) December."
Shortly after Meggs made his address, Winston was slated to make a statement, but instead it was his head coach Jimbo Fisher who took the podium on his behalf.
"As you might imagine, I was pleased to hear that the State Attorney's Office exonerated Jameis in the matter," Fisher said. "I'm not going to answer any questions about the situation, but I would like to point out that our community and university are blessed to have really good people in place to review matters like this. I know Jameis is pleased he can focus on being a student at a great university and he's excited about helping our team achieve its goals this year. Right now, we're all looking forward to what we have in front of us on Saturday."
It's been a tumultuous few weeks for everyone involved, and opinions will continue to swirl on both sides of the argument for some time, but the one thing we know for sure is that this is a closed case, and the end of this distraction has come as a sigh of relief for the Florida State football program.
That's not to say that Thursday's outcome was a "win" for the Seminoles. Any time a football program is linked to such a high-profile, delicate and disturbing case, it's a black mark for the institution. Things like this should not be taken lightly -- which, unfortunately, Meggs and the press clearly did at times during the announcement with inappropriate joking and laughter, which undermined the accuser, and frankly, anybody who's ever been sexually abused. Because of Winston's public visibility, there will always be the thought that this case ultimately became more about football than it did about the law.
But the facts remain that the Seminoles have a season to finish out, the fate of which was hanging in the balance leading up to the decision.
The pendulum swing from this ruling was a great one. Had he been charged with a felony crime, Winston would have been suspended from the team effective immediately, but now Florida State will go on as planned for this Saturday's ACC championship game versus No. 20 Duke.
Much to Florida State's credit, it has not wavered since news broke of these allegations a few weeks back, staying the course with its destructive path by racking up crushing defeats over Syracuse (59-3), Idaho (80-14) and Florida (37-7) in recent weeks to keep its undefeated season alive. In the process, it has risen to No. 1 in the BCS Standings following Alabama's loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and after earning 58 of 60 first-place votes in the latest AP poll, a win over Duke on Saturday would all but assure its spot in the BCS National Championship game. With Winston's athletic eligibility unchanged after the verdict, the Seminoles, who are favored by more than four touchdowns for Saturday's matchup, shouldn't have much trouble with the Blue Devils.
Although Meggs denied that the state's office revealed the investigation results so quickly to accommodate the football season, it was undoubtedly good timing for the program as well as for Winston himself considering voting for the Heisman Trophy closes on Dec. 9. The signal caller, who has already set ACC freshman records with 3,490 yards and 35 touchdowns this season, stepped up in the face of adversity by throwing nine touchdowns to just one interception over the last three weeks. Winston will, in all likelihood, be one of the Heisman finalists invited to New York for the Dec. 14 ceremony, and while his involvement with this case may cause him to lose a few votes, he's still expected to be the runaway winner, especially since the likes of Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, and A.J. McCarron have taken major steps backwards in recent weeks.
If the Seminoles can take care of business against the Blue Devils, they will likely take on either Ohio State or the winner of the SEC title game (Auburn vs. Missouri) in the BCS National Championship Game, where Winston can continue to separate himself from this incident.
Clearly, in terms of his on-the-field production, the sky is the limit for Winston -- the projected Heisman winner, a potential national champion, and inarguably one of the top quarterback prospects when he's eligible to declare in 2015.
Still, while he's been cleared in the eyes of the law, his mere involvement has raised suspicions and put his character in question, and it'll be up to him to keep his public persona a positive one from this point forward.