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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Winston mess no laughing matter

Jameis Winston will play for Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship game. He will win the Heisman Trophy. He will most probably play for the national title, at the Rose Bowl, no less. One day he should earn millions of dollars in the NFL. He is free to do so. He will move on, and so will the rest of us, sooner or later.

Winston, accused of rape, will not face felony charges, or any charges.

But there are lessons here, for Winston, maybe for his accuser — and certainly for the time-lapse jugheads at the Tallahassee Police Department. Maybe for Florida State, the university, the athletic program. Also, we'd like to nominate state attorney Willie Meggs for: worst news conference ever.

Why there even was a news conference was what I was asking. Issue a statement that charges would not be filed, the facts were murky, there wasn't enough proof or a strong enough chance of a conviction — and be done with it.

Nothing against Meggs, who has been a state attorney for 29 years, and no reading into his tie, which had a little garnet in it (bad choice). Nothing at all against the apparently intensive 13-day investigation, other than it should have happened months ago. Clearly, prosecutors didn't think he had enough to gain a conviction.

But there was no excuse for that show Thursday, the disturbing flippancy at times, the smiles, even laughter now and again. This did center around an alleged sexual assault, right? It was weird and appalling.

No one comes out of this looking better than they were going in, that's for sure.

Winston was never charged, and don't forget that. People will move on. Does anyone talk about the accusations against Ben Roethlisberger and Kobe Bryant anymore?

No, but we don't look at those guys the same, at least some of us don't.

It will be that way for Winston. That infectious smile won't carry as far.

Look, something happened that night, and I'm pretty sure, at the very least, that Winston wasn't there to earn a scouting merit badge. He'll need to smarten up and fly right.

His accuser doesn't look better than when this began. Her recollections weren't always clear, “She was not sure about a lot of things,” Meggs said. “He said he did not think prosecutors could count on her “to prove elements of a crime.”

I don't know where to start with the Tallahassee Police Department. If I had a kid living at school in Tallahassee, or if I was in Tallahassee, period, I'd be worried.

The troubling delay before that department filed a report with the state attorney's office couldn't have helped. That's an injustice.

“Obviously it would have been somewhat better if we had all gotten into this case a little bit earlier,” Meggs said.

You think?

It might not have changed the ultimate decision, but who wouldn't feel better, more confident about Thursday's announcement if it had happened months ago?

It has been ruled that no crime was committed here, none that could be proven. But that news conference bothered me. Something in the smiles and occasional laughter made me worry.

No one should be afraid to come forward if they think they've been sexually assaulted, but it happens: people are afraid. I don't know if how this played out has helped.

I don't mean Jameis Winston being cleared of wrongdoing. There was an investigation. There are no charges. We move on.

I mean the delay. I mean some of the smiles and frivolity at that Thursday news conference.

It's nothing to laugh at.

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