Tallahassee seemed to have its mind made up even before the announcement came down Thursday.
Don Juan Moore
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — If Guinness wants to list a new world record, this city provided one Thursday:
Most people convinced they know something they don’t – 186,000. Give or take a courthouse employee waving an FSU No. 1 finger on national TV.
She and all Seminoles fans can finally relax. In the eyes of the law, Jameis Winston is guilty of nothing besides maybe cheating on his girlfriend. That’s not nearly enough to derail FSU’s title train, and it spares the Downtown Athletic Club from having to crown a most controversial Heisman winner.
Article continues below ...
The state attorney made the announcement at 2 p.m. It was a "Where were you when Kennedy was shot" moment all over this stretch of North Florida. Where were you when Jameis was cleared?
About a dozen guys were at Po’ Boys Creole Cafe a couple of blocks from the courthouse. They stared at the TV and cheered.
"Of course," the waitress said.
Her name was Cali, and she was the only female in the place. I figured that might give her a slightly different perspective on Thursday’s events.
Was justice served?
"I have no idea," she said.
That’s the eternally aggravating thing about sexual assault cases. After all the rumors have been dispelled and the facts sorted, you can still believe what you want to believe.
Winston was cleared of sexual assault allegations, and he may very well have been falsely accused. If only State Attorney Willie Meggs could have answered the lingering question.
Was there no assault, or merely not enough evidence to move ahead?
"The folks want to look for conclusions," Meggs said. "They’ll have to draw their own."
If they want to conclude Winston was falsely accused, they can.
If they want to conclude he beat the system, they can.
If they want to conclude Meggs’ office conducted a thorough and professional investigation, they can.
If they want to conclude the Tallahassee Police Department botched it by shelving the case for nine months, they can.
The fact is only two people know what really happened the night of Dec. 7, 2012. And chances are even they would disagree.
But if you want to conclude most FSU fans didn’t need to see the evidence to know Winston is innocent, all you had to do Thursday was have ears.
"That girl has zero credibility."
That’s what I heard from the guy at the table next to me at lunch. On the other side, 10 office workers were making plans to be in front of the boss’s TV screen at 2 p.m.
The big rumor around town was that the accuser was acquainted with Winston before the incident. She was chewed up on social media as an opportunist, and a lot worse.
Meggs said the accuser didn’t know Winston. Not that the tidbit altered many perceptions. When the time came for Meggs to make his announcement, a couple of shirtless guys paraded in front of the courthouse with "Jameis" painted on their chests.
All of which means Tallahassee was acting like any other college town would in this situation. Though the lady with the garnet-and-gold finger was a bit much. Talk about a Heisman-caliber arm, she waved it for 15 minutes as Winston’s attorney Tim Jansen held a press conference.
The emblem on her shirt read: Leon County Clerk of the Court. Thankfully, she wasn’t one of Meggs’ law clerks.
"Jameis is satisfied," Jansen said.
There’s nothing to indicate Meggs gave Winston special treatment. He’s opening all the investigative files to the public. Jansen said they’ll show two witnesses who would back Winston’s claim that the sex was consensual. Jansen also said the toxicology reports would show the accuser wasn’t as impaired as she claimed.
"She can’t remember some things," Meggs said. "And that’s a problem."
It sure would be on the witness stand. You can see why Meggs would be leery at the thought. You can also see why the accuser’s family put out this statement Thursday:
"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."
But is she really the victim, or is he? We may never know.
"Where does he go to get his reputation back?" Jansen said.
He could always start at Po’ Boys. But for many people, the answers to these difficult questions aren’t so clear.