No charges against Roethlisberger
By Kate Brumback
MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who won't face criminal charges after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her inside a nightclub's bathroom, said yesterday he knows he'll have to work to regain the trust of teammates and fans.
Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said yesterday that after exhaustive interviews and inconclusive medical exams, the student's accusations could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Bright also revealed the young accuser no longer wanted him to prosecute.
Bright said he continued to investigate the case, but ultimately decided against moving forward partly because he was never able to find out what happened behind the bathroom door at the Capital City club.
"Here the overall circumstances do not lead to a viable prosecution. If they did, I would be pursuing it vigorously," Bright said. "We do not prosecute morals. We prosecute crimes."
Roethlisberger, in his first public remarks since the accusations on March 5, read a 74-second statement yesterday at a podium in the Steelers' locker room.
"The prosecutor's decision not to bring charges, I know without a doubt, is the right conclusion," said Roethlisberger, who was wearing a red sports shirt and light-colored slacks. "I don't intend to discuss any details related to the events of Georgia. I'm happy to put this behind me and move forward."
Roethlisberger also did not discuss his upcoming meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or any possible punishment that might come from the league or the team for violating the players' conduct code.
"I am excited to get back to work with my teammates, and I'm more determined than ever to have a great season," he said.
The encounter took place after a night of bar-hopping in Milledgeville, a quaint central Georgia college town about 30 miles from where the two-time Super Bowl winner owns a lake home. Bright detailed the night during a lengthy news conference yesterday.
Roethlisberger, who was out drinking with friends to celebrate his 28th birthday, bumped into the student and her sorority sisters throughout the night. They linked up at Capital City, where he invited them to a VIP section and bought them a round of shots.
As the night wore on, the student walked down a hallway to a small bathroom, and Roethlisberger soon followed. What happened next remained unclear.
The student told police she had been sexually assaulted, but medical results were less clear. A doctor who examined her at a nearby emergency room found a cut, bruises and vaginal bleeding but could not say if she was raped. And while some DNA was found, there was not enough to determine whom it belonged to, Bright said.
Roethlisberger is being sued by a different woman who says he raped her in 2008 at a Lake Tahoe hotel and casino, which he denies. Roethlisberger was not criminally charged in that case and has claimed counter-damages in the lawsuit.
In Milledgeville, state and local police canvassed the town and began interviewing witnesses. Roethlisberger hired Ed Garland, who has represented a long list of high-profile defendants. The accuser's family also hired lawyers, who eventually sent a letter to Bright saying the woman did not want a trial because it would be "a very intrusive personal experience."
One Milledgeville resident was frustrated.
"If he wasn't a famous ballplayer, I think charges would have been filed," said Dorothy Manning, a 68-year-old retiree who was walking downtown. Bright said Roethlisberger was treated like any other suspect.
Garland said the district attorney's decision exonerated the NFL star.
Georgia laws set a relatively high bar for proving sexual assault, requiring proof that force was used and that the victim did not consent, said J. Tom Morgan, a former DeKalb County district attorney. That can be particularly difficult if both parties were drinking alcohol, he said.
Roethlisberger led the Steelers to Super Bowl victories in 2006 and 2009.