If Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., had been charged with a felony, he would have been immediately suspended from the team and ineligible for competition under FSU athletic department policy. Now, Winston can finish the season with the Seminoles, who are heavy favorites to defeat No. 20 Duke in Saturday night's ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C.
With one more victory, the Seminoles (12-0) would punch their ticket to the Jan. 6 Vizio BCS National Championship.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
"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."
Fisher later said he addressed the team before practice Thursday and told it no charges were filed against Winston, who was in attendance.
"Yes he was," the coach said. "He's preparing very well, and you see the same guy leading his teammates and happy to be on the field."
Asked how the freshman quarterback handled the situation so well, the coach said, "He's very mature. He has ability, he has strength in his beliefs and what he does, and he's very mature that way. A lot of grown-ups can't do that. He can prioritize and compartmentalize when he has to do something."
The accuser initially reported the alleged rape to FSU police on the night in question. Because the incident took place off campus, FSU police immediately referred the case to Tallahassee police.
The woman's attorney has been critical of the way Tallahassee police handled the case from the beginning. In a statement released two weeks ago, Carroll wrote that a TPD officer told her that Tallahassee is a "big football town, and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against [Winston] because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable."
Last week, Tallahassee police issued a timeline of the case and defended their handling of the investigation. According to the timeline, TPD said the woman didn't identify Winston as her alleged attacker until Jan. 10, more than a month after the incident. Tallahassee police said evidence from the woman's rape kit was sent to the state crime lab on Jan. 15, and Winston declined to be interviewed by police on Jan. 23.
In February, Tallahassee police put the case in "open/inactive" status because they said the accuser decided she didn't wish to press charges. Carroll has vehemently denied the woman ever wanted to drop the investigation.
As for the delay in the case reaching the state attorney's office, Meggs said: "Obviously it would have been somewhat better if we had all gotten into this case a little bit earlier. Time is important, and it certainly would have been nice" to know last December what prosecutors know now.
Meggs said that football discussions played no part in the investigation.