Florida State star quarterback Jameis Winston will learn today whether he will be charged with sexual battery in the alleged rape of a fellow student.
State Attorney Willie Meggs, whose office took over the investigation last month from Tallahassee police, said he plans to make the announcement at 2 p.m. at his office in the Leon County Courthouse.
The decision will end more than three weeks of intense, national scrutiny of the case involving the leader of FSU's No. 1-ranked football team, which has prompted sharp criticism of how the Tallahassee Police Department handled the on-again, off-again investigation. It also 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.
Evidence gathered by investigators the day of the incident matched Winston's DNA collected by police last month. Winston's attorney, Tim Jansen of Tallahassee, has dismissed the connection, insisting sex between his client and the accuser was consensual, a contention the woman's family has vehemently denied.
If charged with a felony, FSU's code of conduct mandates Winston to be immediately suspended from the team until the case is resolved. Only a finding of "extraordinary circumstances" by the administration would allow him to play.
Jansen said Wednesday evening he had not been contacted by Meggs or his office regarding Thursday's announcement and did not speculate on what the state attorney would decide.
"In 20 years of practice I never try to guess what Mr. Meggs is going to do. I've seen him go both ways," Jansen said. "I am hoping that Mr. Meggs or someone from his office will contact me prior to the 2 p.m. meeting. Hopefully, they'll inform me of what their decision is."
Patricia Carroll, the Dade City attorney of the 19-year-old complainant in the case, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The Tallahassee Democrat generally does not identify sexual assault victims.
If a suspect is to be charged, Jansen said it is customary for the State Attorney's Office to contact the suspect's attorney before an arrest is made.
"If they are going to charge your client they would give you the heads up, you'd be able to turn your client in. Hopefully that's not going to happen because he's trying to get to the ACC game," Jansen said. "But I'll wait to hear from Mr. Meggs's office and see what they have to tell us before the 2 p.m. meeting and we'll take all the appropriate actions we have to on behalf of Mr. Winston."
Jansen said he plans to hold a news conference with Winston following Meggs' announcement, likely at about 6:30 p.m. after team practice and before the team leaves for the ACC Championship game at about 7:45 p.m.
"Our goal and Mr. Winston's goal is to address the media once the case is closed," Jansen said. "He's not going to go into great details about it, but he would like to put closure to this so he can move forward for the ACC game and a potential national championship."
Jansen said he had not yet talked to Winston about Meggs' planned announcement, but did reach FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher Wednesday evening and talked to the quarterback's parents in Alabama. He said Winston has been focusing on football and school amid the media maelstrom.
"We are glad it is hopefully going to come to a conclusion tomorrow. We thank Mr. Meggs for conducting a thorough investigation and, whatever his decision, that the public will accept his decision and will move forward either way," Jansen said. "Either we are going to gear up for a trial or the cloud is going to be lifted and people can move on to their everyday lives."
Legal observers said Meggs's planned announcement points to charges not being filed against Winston.
"I don't think they would hold a press conference to announce an arrest," said Tallahassee defense attorney John Leace, who helped to successfully defend former FSU player Travis Johnson against a rape allegation in 2003.
Chuck Hobbs, another defense attorney who has represented FSU athletes and is a one-time prosecutor in Meggs' office, agreed. He said he expects Meggs will use the news conference to "discuss the thorough investigation his office has undertaken and why they arrived at the decision they did."
If no charges are brought and the case is closed, details of the incident and its initial investigation by Tallahassee police will become available for scrutiny. The complainant's family said a police investigator warned her attorney that pursuing the allegation against Winston would subject her to public scorn. The family has condemned TPD for what it characterizes as multiple lapses in the investigation, including failure to collect DNA evidence early and prematurely categorizing the case as inactive.
The woman called the Florida State University Police Department shortly before 3:30 a.m. Dec. 7, 2012, to report the crime. The case was quickly handed over to TPD 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.