DA: No charges for Roethlisberger
District Attorney Fred Bright made the announcement Monday
20-year-old student claims Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her
Bright: Questions still persist about what happened at nightclub
MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. (AP) -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won't face criminal charges after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her inside a nightclub's bathroom. But what happened in that restroom after a night of drinking remains a mystery.
Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said Monday that after exhaustive interviews and inconclusive medical exams, the student's accusations could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. He 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."
What is known is that the March 5 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 Monday.
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 dingy hallway to a small bathroom, and Roethlisberger soon followed. What happened next remained unclear even after a monthlong investigation.
The student told police she had been sexually assaulted, but the medical results were less clear. A doctor who examined her at a nearby emergency room discovered 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.
The allegations were more bad news for Roethlisberger, who is being sued by a different woman who says he raped her in 2008 at a Lake Tahoe hotel and casino, an allegation he had denied. 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. And the accuser's family also hired lawyers, who eventually sent a letter to Bright saying the young woman did not want a trial because it would be "a very intrusive personal experience."
Garland said that the district attorney's decision exonerated the star quarterback. He said that he spoke with Roethlisberger Monday and that "he was glad that this matter is over and he's looking forward to going back to football practice next week and having a successful season."
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. And that can be particularly difficult if both parties were drinking alcohol, he said.
As Pittsburgh's first-round draft pick out of Miami of Ohio in 2004, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to Super Bowl victories in 2006 and 2009. He frequently has donated time and money to charities, and his charitable foundation awards a police dog to a department near every Steelers road opponent.
But off-field problems have come along with his championships and $102 million contract. In 2006, he defied his coach's orders and rode his motorcycle without a helmet -- and wound up with a concussion, broken jaw and other injuries after a wreck.
And while Roethlisberger has a reputation for patiently signing autographs and posing for pictures while out in public, he also is known for occasionally inelegant behavior in Pittsburgh. Early in his career, he was photographed -- obviously after drinking -- wearing a T-shirt reading "Drink Like a Champion."
Team president Art Rooney II, known to be frustrated and exasperated with Roethlisberger's lack of maturity and judgment, said the quarterback must win back the respect and trust of his teammates and his city.
"During the past few weeks, I have met with Ben on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident, but also to discuss his commitment to making sure this never happens again," Rooney said in a statement.
In Pittsburgh, the reaction among fans was mixed. Some said they feared it was only a matter of time before Roethlisberger was in trouble again.
"I've seen him around a couple times and he's always got the entourage, and the aura around him and it's annoying," said Kevin Brown, a 27-year-old who watched the press conference at an upscale restaurant a stone's throw from Heinz Field. "I've seen the way he's acted."
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