Whether he's charged or not, Jameis Winston's case was botched

Thursday December 5th, 2013

Much about Jameis Winston's case is unknown, but the investigation was mishandled from the start.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

We don't know what Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs will say about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in his Thursday press conference. We don't know if Meggs will formally accuse Winston of rape, absolve him of it, or say there simply wasn't enough evidence to proceed. We can guess, and if enough of us guess, some of us will be right. But a guess is still a guess.

Still, the press conference hasn't even started yet, and there is already a fundamental problem with it.

The date.

The incident between Winston and his accuser occurred Dec. 7, 2012. Why did everybody have to wait until Dec. 5, 2013 to find out if he will be charged with sexual assault? Did Winston receive any kind of preferential treatment -- from anybody -- because, at the time of the incident, he was a Florida State star-in-waiting?

Subtle distinctions tend to get lost when we all start screaming at each other, but it's important to make this one: The story of Jameis Winston is not the same as the story of the Jameis Winston case. They are intertwined, certainly, but they are not the same.

You can find flaws with how the case was pursued and still not assume he is guilty. After all, it was not Winston's job to handle the case. There are reasons to wonder if police were wary of pursuing charges -- not because they knew he was guilty, but because they feared he was.

This is what we know:

Police were called on the night of the incident. The accuser was interviewed, and evidence was collected. The accuser identified Winston as the suspect on Jan. 10. Police say the then accuser canceled an interview (the accuser says she was available to be questioned). On Jan. 15, evidence was sent to the Florida Department of Police for processing. On Jan. 23, Winston declined an interview. On Feb. 11, police left the case open but inactive.

The police version of this story is fairly easy to follow. Winston wouldn't talk, the accuser wouldn't talk, and her attorney told them she did not want to press charges. There was nothing they could do.

But in multiple statements, the accuser and her attorney, Patricia Carroll, have told a very different story.

In the accuser's version, Det. Steve Angulo warned the accuser's attorney that "Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable." The accuser also says Angulo "specifically refused to collect Winston's DNA or interview Winston's roommate who witnessed the attack," because he was worried the story would blow up.

The accuser also says Angulo lied about contacting Winston; he said he wouldn't, and he did. Yet the roommate was never interviewed.

Both sides seem to believe that witnesses support their version of the events. Angulo deserves a chance to explain (or deny) those statements. But there are serious questions here, and they are a lot bigger than a Heisman Trophy. They affect anybody in Tallahassee who is sexually assaulted in the future. People need to know accusations will be taken seriously and pursued vigorously, regardless of who is accused.

This is not just an accuser's complaint, either. The recently retired Tallahassee police chief, Dennis M. Jones, told CNN he never knew there was an allegation against Winston, and "I'd like to know why it didn't make it to me."

Maybe there is an explanation for that, and for other breakdowns. But be clear: The system broke down here. It sure looks like authorities did not try to wrap up the case until it became public, and people demanded it.

Look at other cases in the area, and you can see how unusual this delay is. One of Winston's top targets this season was supposed to be Greg Dent. In June, Dent was accused of sexually assaulting a longtime acquaintance. That happened at 3:30 a.m on a Sunday. He was charged the next day. (He hasn't played since, and awaits trial.)

On Feb. 1, 2012, Two Tallahassee teenagers were accused of raping a girl at the Godby High School football field. Two weeks later, they were charged as adults. In May 2013, one was convicted. To sum up: from accusation to conviction in less than 16 months. We have waited 12 months just to find out if Winston will be charged.

A lot of questions should be asked at this press conference. Some of those questions are about what happened last Dec. 7. But many are about what has happened since.

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