DA: No charges coming in Roethlisberger case

MILLEDGEVILLE -- They met at the Velvet Elvis in downtown Milledgeville. Ben Roethlisberger, celebrating his 28th birthday, was partying with his entourage. The 20-year-old sophomore, who would accuse him of rape early the next morning, was barhopping with her sorority sisters, including a Steelers fan who recognized Pittsburgh's All-Pro quarterback.

Both groups ended up at the Capital City Club a little after 1 a.m. Roethlisberger and friends took over the bar's makeshift VIP room, separated by a black curtain and guarded by the quarterback's security detail. Only those women approved by Roethlisberger were granted access. Once inside, they were provided shots of alcohol. Among them: his accuser, who was wearing a sexually explicit T-shirt, Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright confirmed.

"Too much drinking by too many people," said Bright, who provided the narrative for the events of March 5.

The conversation between the quarterback and the coed quickly turned sexual in nature, Bright said. A little before 2 a.m. they disappeared into a small bathroom within the VIP area. What happened inside remains a mystery, said Bright, who on Monday announced the woman's rape allegation "cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

"Something may have happened," he said. "We do not prosecute morals, we prosecute crimes."

The alleged victim, who the D.A. said was "highly intoxicated," first told Officer Jerry Blash she wasn't raped. She was asked if she had sex. She said she wasn't sure. Later, in a handwritten statement, she said she did have non-consensual sex with Roethlisberger.

"I told him it wasn't okay," she said. "No. I proceeded to get up and try to leave. He followed me into the bathroom. He then had sex with me. He said it was okay."

Later that morning, at the Oconee Regional Medical Center, she said, "a boy kind of raped me." The doctor who treated her said he could not say whether she had been sexually assaulted, although there were signs of bruising and a slight laceration in the genital area. However, there was "no evidence of semen or discharge," Bright said. DNA evidence processed at the GBI's crime lab was also inconclusive, the district attorney said.

Meanwhile, back at the Capital City Club, Blash approached Roethlisberger, informing him of the allegation. The officer, who would have his picture taken with the quarterback, said something derogatory about the accuser, Milledgeville Police Chief Woodrow Blue confirmed Monday. Blash is being investigated for those remarks and has been reassigned but not suspended, the chief said. Attempts to reach the officer Monday were unsuccessful.

"[The remarks] did not have any impact on the investigation," Blue said.

In what would be his only statement to police, Roethlisberger said he remembered the young woman. "I told her she was too drunk to be back here," he told Blash. The quarterback said he remembered her falling and hitting her head, though the doctor who examined the accuser at the hospital did not find any sign of a head injury, Bright said.

Roethlisberger's attorney, Ed Garland, refused to talk about the details of the case or any evidence his investigators uncovered during their search. And he would not discuss whether his client, facing a lawsuit for a similar accusation in Nevada, could face civil action from the Milledgeville accuser.

“I have followed the practice in this case of not discussing the facts of this matter at any time,” he said. “I felt it was unnecessary. This matter is over. It is concluded, and I will not be answering any questions about the facts.”

The attorney said he spoke with Roethlisberger Monday after the DA’s findings were announced, and said the NFL star was “glad that this matter was over, and is looking forward to going back to practice next week and looking forward to having a successful season."

In a brief statement Monday night Roethlisberger said he is "happy" to put sexual assault allegations behind him and knows he must work to regain the trust of his teammates and the team's large fan base, the Associated Press reported. He did not take questions and  did not discuss his upcoming meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or any possible punishment that might be brought against him by the league or the team for violating the players' conduct code.

Prosecutor Bright said his decision not to press charges was not influenced by the accuser's request that he drop the case.

"What is obvious in looking forward is that a criminal trial would be a very intrusive personal experience for a complainant in this situation, given the extraordinary media attention that would be inevitable," the woman's attorney, David Walbert, wrote in a letter dated March 17. "As should be clear from what I said here, this decision does not reflect any recanting of our client's complaint, but simply a realistic, personal decision as to what is in her best interests, and what it would be like to go through a trial with the expected media attention."

Though his investigation has concluded, significant questions persist, Bright said. "Everyone could be criticized for their actions that night," he said.

The D.A. minced no words when asked what he would say to Roethlisberger.

"Ben, grow up," he said. "You're supposed to stand for something ... you don't ever need to put yourself in this position. You can do better."

--Staff writer Marcus K. Garner contributed to this report