In My Opinion

Linda Robertson: Fandom making Jameis Winston case uglier

 

lrobertson@MiamiHerald.com

Jameis Winston will not be charged with sexual assault. A criminal investigation of him will not be turned into an indictment. His pursuit of the Heisman Trophy and a national championship for Florida State will not be interrupted.

But those who are claiming victory for Winston are making an ugly case even uglier.

Winston wasn’t gloating Thursday after State Attorney Willie Meggs announced in Tallahassee that he did not have enough evidence to convict. Nor was Winston’s attorney Tim Jansen celebrating the end of a year-long ordeal.

Winston expressed relief. He thanked those whose faith in him never wavered. But he didn’t act like he had vanquished a hated foe.

So why is a certain segment of FSU and sports fandom cheering Winston and insulting his accuser in a pathetic pile-on? Why can’t they save their misplaced aggression for Duke rather than heaping it on a young woman?

There are no winners here.

Two lives have been damaged. Two names have been dragged through the mud.

“Famous Jameis” has been tainted, even though he was cleared.

“There will be people who will always think of Mr. Winston and think of this allegation,” Jansen said. “How does he get the asterisk removed if he wins the Heisman or the Super Bowl? Then there’s the innuendo of, ‘Oh, it’s a football town and she can’t get justice.’

“He has never even been charged. He’s just like anyone standing here.”

The name of the accuser was redacted from police reports to protect her privacy but her identity and her photo are displayed on the Internet, where she’s been attacked in a flood of viciousness. She had to withdraw from FSU. She’s been on trial for weeks in a preview of what she would have faced had the case gone to court. Most rape victims describe the treatment as their second rape.

“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,” said the accuser’s lawyer, Patricia Carroll.

No one can trumpet vindication. It’s a sad story all around.

Sad for Winston, who says sex with the woman in his apartment on Dec. 7, 2012, was consensual. It took a year for him to be freed from limbo. His dream season, during which he’s led FSU to its first No. 1 ranking since 2000, has also been his darkest. He’s seen his name in the best and worst kind of headlines. He’s been praised as savior and denigrated as devil. His status as a football star earned him unconditional support from rabid fans and presumed guilt by cynics who have seen other athletes bend to their own ego and benefit from the star system of justice.

“People ask, ‘Why are these athletes always committing these crimes?’” Jansen said. “Sometimes people target these athletes or maybe they idolize them or make more of a relationship than there is. Sometimes motives come into question.

“He did nothing wrong. We need to stop maligning the accused.”

It’s a sad outcome for the accuser, who said after a night of drinking at Potbelly’s she wound up in a taxi with three men, then on a bed where Winston held her down and forced himself upon her even though she told him to stop. She said when one of his friends entered the room and told Winston to stop, Winston picked her up and continued the assault on the bathroom floor. She said he then dressed her and drove her on his scooter to an intersection near her dorm. She called police, submitted to a rape exam and answered questions about the tall male with a “short Afro” whom she did not know. A month later, after learning his name, she called police. Winston, through his lawyer, declined to be interviewed. Somehow, the case stalled. Tallahassee police said she did not want to pursue prosecution. Her lawyer said they stonewalled.

Neither side made progress until a public scandal erupted three weeks ago.

Meggs conducted his own investigation, identifying two DNA samples – one on her underwear from Winston and one on her shorts from her boyfriend, , who was not at the apartment. Meggs decided her testimony would not convince a jury.

“Her recall of events of that night has been moving around a good bit,” he said. “There are some memory lapses. They were problematic. We have a duty to only file charges if we have a likelihood of conviction.”

Something unpleasant happened in that bedroom. Meggs came up short of absolving Winston, instead pointing to the holes in her recollection. Never did he say her allegations were part of a fraud or vendetta. Her hesitation was typical, and although the delay in the investigation was regrettable he refused to call it neglect or obstruction by the police.

“In a sexual battery case I don’t believe I’ve ever met a victim who is excited about going to court to testify,” he said “These cases are not easy. Sometimes the truth is not easy to find.”

Meggs wasn’t swayed, nor has he ever been swayed during his 29 years as prosecutor in Tallahassee, by Seminole mania. He said he was unaware of the Heisman voting timetable.

Winston is assured of winning the Heisman now that the case has been closed.

Nevertheless, a folder full of details that neither Winston nor his accuser can be proud of remains on file. FSU marches onward toward its championship goal. They say winning cures all ills. If only it were that simple.

Read more Linda Robertson stories from the Miami Herald

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