Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston maintained his innocence in the alleged rape of a fellow student that threatened to impact the Heisman Trophy and BCS national championship races.
On Thursday, it was announced that Winston, the leading Heisman contender as a redshirt freshman for the top-ranked Seminoles, will not be charged.
Winston did not attend a news conference at the Leon County Courthouse announcing the decision but issued a written statement through his attorney, Tim Jansen.
"I want to thank my family, friends, coaches and teammates for standing by me during a difficult time," Winston wrote. "I also want to thank the State Attorney's Office for examining all of the facts and reaching a decision in a conclusive manner. 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."
State Attorney Willie Meggs, whose office took over the investigation last month from Tallahassee police, made the formal announcement from his office in the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee on Thursday.
"We have a duty as prosecutors to only file those charges if we have a reasonable likelihood of a conviction," Meggs said. "After reviewing all of the evidence of the case, we did not feel like we could meet that burden.
"I will let y'all determine that when you review the facts. We didn't feel we had sufficient evidence to go forward, to bring the case to trial to prove it was not consensual."
The decision ended more than three weeks of intense, national scrutiny of the case involving the leader of undefeated Florida State. Florida State plays for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship on Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.
Meggs said "memory lapses" of the event were problematic. Winston "would not speak to us," he added.
Regarding that a third person was in the room at the time of alleged incident, Meggs said, "There were several people in the room when this event occurred. They've all been questioned and that's detailed in the report."
Regarding the Tallahassee Police Department's handling of the case, Meggs said, "Obviously, it would've been somewhat better if we had all gotten involved a little earlier."
Meggs said his office waited for key results to conclude the investigation.
"In the laboratory work that we did, and you'll see that in the reports, there were DNA from males -- one was identified as being Winston's DNA and the other one was unknown," he said. "Obviously, if we were going to proceed to trial, having unknown DNA in a sexual assault kit would be a problem."
Meggs said the second "DNA donor" was indicative of another sexual encounter. The investigation led Meggs to determine the alleged victim and the second male had a prior relationship. That incident was not investigated as battery. Meggs referred to the second male as "her boyfriend," adding that the the woman would not disclose the man's name.
"Being shrewd investigators, we found out, and we got his DNA," Meggs said.
The alleged victim's blood-alcohol level at time of test was .04 "which is not very high" Meggs said. Meggs said the timing of the test was also extrapolated to compensate for time passed between the "sexual event" and the BAC test and found the level to be estimated at 1.0.
Patricia Carroll, the attorney representing the accuser, made a statement Thursday on behalf of the family:
"The victim and her family appreciate the State Attorney's efforts in attempting to conduct a proper investigation after an inordinate delay by the Tallahassee Police Department. The victim in this case had the courage to immediately report her rape to the police and she relied upon them to seek justice. 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."
Meggs' ruling comes nearly a year to the day after the woman first reported to police on Dec. 7, 2012, that she was raped at an off-campus apartment.
A search warrant affadavit issued for the cell phone records of the woman accusing Winston revealed details about her allegations that she was raped in an apartment after a night of drinking with friends.
Multiple outlets reported Thursday that details in the affidavit said the victim contacted police within an hour of the alleged rape. At the time, the woman said she did not know her alleged attacker. She later identified Winston.
Winston denied the allegations since they emerged publicly on Nov. 13.
Evidence gathered by investigators the day of the incident matched Winston's DNA collected by police last month. Jansen had insisted sex between his client and the accuser was consensual, a contention the woman's family has vehemently denied.
If Winston had been charged with a felony, FSU's code of conduct mandated Winston to be immediately suspended from the team until the case was resolved.
Jansen held a news conference with the media on Thursday afternoon.
"We believed from Day One in December that this was a consensual act between Mr. Winston and a young woman," Jansen said. "We believed it in December, we believed it in February and we believe it today.
"We wanted the investigation to be unbiased. At one point, we felt we had to come forward because of DNA leaks. we were confident -- he was confident.
"Important to note: two eyewitnesses gave affidavits were there, saw what happened. Those affidavits are important. So when you get those public documents, you'll see those eyewitness affidavits that this was a consensual encounter."
Jansen on the reaction from Winston: "He was very happy. I can tell you he gave me a hug."
The accuser called the Florida State University Police Department shortly before 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2012, to report the crime. The case was quickly handed over to the Tallahassee Police Department because the incident occurred at an off-campus apartment.
The woman didn't identify Winston as her attacker until Jan. 10, according to a timeline of the investigation released last week by TPD. The police department said it placed the case on inactive status Feb. 11 after the victim declined to pursue charges at the time, a contention her family has denied.
The case languished for about nine months before TPD handed it off to Meggs last month following media inquires for the initial police report.
Winston, who was named the ACC Player of the Year on Wednesday, has led the Seminoles to the No. 1 ranking, and they will play for the conference title on Saturday, with a shot at the national crown.
Winston has passed for 3,490 yards with 38 touchdowns and five interceptions in his first season as a starter. If he wins the Heisman, he would follow Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as the second freshman to win the honor.
Many Heisman voters were waiting to learn the results of the criminal investigation before casting their ballots. The deadline for ballots to be turned in is Monday. Many Heisman Trophy voters were waiting to see whether Winston would be charged with a crime before casting their ballots. The deadline for Heisman ballots to be turned in is Monday.
As to whether his office was hurried to come to a decision before ballots were due, Meggs said, "When are they doing that? No."
Winston is the first redshirt freshman in the 61-year history of the conference to earn its top honor. He received 47 of 65 votes from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.
Winston leads the nation with a 192.6 passer rating. He also leads the conference with 3,490 passing yards and 35 touchdowns.
FSU athletics director Stan Wilcox released a statement through the school on Thursday:
"Based on this afternoon's announcement by the State Attorney, Jameis Winston's status as a Florida State University student-athlete remains unchanged. We have been respectful, impartial and fully cooperative in the legal process that has now run its course. I will have no further comment on this matter."
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher's statement on his quarterback:
"As you might imagine, I was pleased to hear that the State Attorney's Office exonerated Jameis in the matter. I'm not going to answer any questions about the situation, but I would like to point out that our community and our 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."