Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, threw the game-winning touchdown in January’s national championship game.
But things might have gone differently if prosecutors had decided to charge him a month earlier in a rape case that remained a secret for nearly a year.
Prosecutors said Dec. 5 they did not have enough evidence to charge the sophomore quarterback, but a New York Times examination published Wednesday found “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.”
A Florida State freshman told police she was raped Dec. 7, 2012, by a stranger off-campus after drinking at a Tallahassee bar and identified Winston, then a freshman as well, as the suspect on Jan. 10, 2013.
Police made their first contact with Winston 13 days later by phone, and the player told detectives he would call them back later, after baseball practice.
“They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” said Prosecutor William Meggs, of the state attorney’s office, although he pointed out that a better investigation might still have yielded no charges.
“The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter,” wrote Times reporter Walt Bogdanich. “After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.”
Police made limited efforts to gather video from more than 30 security cameras operating at the Tallahassee bar where the victim had been drinking, the Times reported, and they did not identify the taxi driver who took Winston and the accuser away from the bar.
“Taxi records also contained a footprint for investigators to follow: The woman recalled that someone in the car swiped a Florida State student identification card to get a discounted fare,” the Times reported.
Winston has admitted to having sex with the woman, but he claims it was consensual. His claim has been supported by two football players with him that night, including the friend who recorded video of the encounter.
The accuser’s claims remained under wraps until Nov. 13, when the news broke a week before Florida State’s game against Syracuse, the Seminoles were 9-0, and Winston was a leading candidate for college football’s top individual honor.
Meggs announced early the next month that the state lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute Winston, and the case was dropped.
A month before the rape accusation went public, the university’s victim advocate said a second woman sought counseling following a sexual encounter with Winston, although she did not call the act rape and says she did not say no.
But the victim advocate said she was so concerned about the episode that she told the accuser.
An attorney for Winston’s accuser said a detective cautioned her against pursuing the case, saying Tallahassee was a big football town and the accuser would be “raked over the coals.”
That detective, Scott Angulo, has done private security work for the Seminole Boosters organization, and he said the case was initially suspended because the accuser had stopped cooperating.
But the accuser denies the detective’s claim.
“My attorney’s repeated calls to Tallahassee Police Department prove that I had not dropped the case,” Mr. Winston’s accuser wrote in a Dec. 19 complaint against the department, which was quickly dismissed.
Winston declined an interview request through his family’s legal adviser.
“We don’t need an investigation, thorough or otherwise, to know that Jameis did not sexually assault this young lady,” said attorney David Cornwell. “Jameis has never sexually assaulted anybody.”
Watch this video interview of Winston following the championship game posted online by ESPN: