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Police: Roethlisberger's DNA not needed; no evidence to compare

| Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger does not need to provide a DNA sample to Georgia authorities investigating allegations that he sexually assaulted a college student.

There's no DNA to compare.

Officials at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday confirmed that attorney Edward T.M. Garland of Atlanta offered to provide a sample of Roethlisberger's DNA in connection with the alleged sexual assault of a 20-year-old student in a nightclub restroom early March 5. But police told the lawyer they didn't need it.

"Based on everything that I know and our own investigation, I believe that no charges should be filed in this case," said Garland, a highly regarded attorney.

"I have made it a policy not to comment on the facts of this case. I will adhere to that until this investigation runs its course or the authorities bring charges. We are continuing to inform the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and to cooperate with them in their investigation."

A team of GBI investigators is concentrating full-time on proving or refuting the George College & State University sophomore's allegations. She told Milledgeville police around 2:30 a.m. March 5 that Roethlisberger, 28, assaulted her in a small staff restroom near a "VIP" room in the Capital City dance club.

For three weeks, investigators have followed up leads that tied the woman to Roethlisberger at several bars and the nightclub from about 10 p.m. March 4. Roethlisberger owns a home about 30 miles away in Lake Oconee.

The Tribune-Review does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse. Shortly after Milledgeville police officers took her statement claiming that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her, the accuser was treated at Oconee Regional Medical Center and released.

Attorney Lee Parks of Atlanta, who represents the woman, did not return messages seeking comment.

The allegations emerged as Roethlisberger fights a rape allegation filed in Nevada civil court by a female hotel worker in Lake Tahoe. Roethlisberger, who was not charged with a crime, publicly denied any wrongdoing in that case.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials decline to discuss details of the Milledgeville case, until District Attorney Fred Bright decides whether to prosecute or punt.

GBI Inspector Sherry Lang said the Roethlisberger investigation is an "active case" and they're not trying to convict Roethlisberger or exonerate him.

"We're fact finders," she said. "The truth is that facts lead us to some things and other facts lead us to another thing. But we're in the business of fact finding."

A lack of DNA evidence doesn't necessarily mean a sexual assault didn't occur, but it removes potentially key pieces of evidence for a prosecution.

"We can infer, with some certainty, that they have nothing at all that would be male ejaculate, semen, that would be a stain on clothing or any swabs taken from the lady," said famed Squirrel Hill forensic pathologist Dr Cyril Wecht. "Remember Monica Lewinsky's dress• We don't have that kind of thing now.

"Now, medically and legally, this doesn't mean that rape or another form of assault didn't take place. But in the absence of DNA, if they did the proper workup, it markedly could weaken what was a case."

A lack of scientific evidence could hurt later at a trial, said Loyola Marymount law professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor.

"We're living in the generation that watches 'CSI' on television," Levenson said. "They've grown to expect that there will be physical evidence."

In the wake of false sexual assault accusations against the Duke lacrosse team and other high-profile cases, Levenson said prosecutors are prudent to take their time and "answer all the key questions that remain."

"Look, these cases often come down to 'he said' and 'she said.' It's often difficult for jurors in those kinds of cases to know what to believe," said Levenson, who teaches legal ethics. "That doesn't mean that a crime didn't take place. It just means that sorting through the evidence can be difficult for people, and this is complicated when there's the presence of a celebrity."

Roethlisberger's attorney Garland predicts his client will be cleared.

"Pittsburgh's citizens should know that I fully intend to watch Ben continue to play football this season, hopefully with him in the Super Bowl," he said.

The Steelers aren't quite as sure.

"We're in a wait-and-see mode like everyone else," coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at the National Football League owners' meetings in Orlando.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he plans to meet with Roethlisberger. He said the NFL is concerned "that Ben keeps putting himself in this position."

The NFL's personal conduct policy allows Goodell to suspend players, order them to seek treatment, or both — even if they have not committed a crime.

Tomlin said Roethlisberger's predicament is particularly disappointing for the Steelers.

"I think it's well known that we're very, very conscious about how we do business, that we're very highly concerned about our image, perception, how we conduct ourselves, our standards of conduct," Tomlin said. "I think it's above and beyond that of our peers, and we embrace that."

Tomlin said he stays in daily contact with Roethlisberger, who is keeping a low-profile in Pittsburgh.

Tomlin declined to discuss the nature of their conversations.

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