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Published: Wednesday, 3/24/2010

Police withdraw request for DNA in Roethlisberger case

BY ED BOUCHETTE
AND MORIAH BALINGIT
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Police continue to investigate sexual assault allegations made against Ben Roethlisberger. Police continue to investigate sexual assault allegations made against Ben Roethlisberger.
KEITH SRAKOCIC / AP Enlarge

ORLANDO, Fla. - An attorney for Ben Roethlisberger said authorities in Georgia have withdrawn their request for a sample of his DNA because they told him they no longer needed it.

Earlier this month, police announced at a news conference that they would seek a DNA sample as part of their investigation into a 20-year-old woman's claims that the Steelers quarterback sexually assaulted her in the early morning hours of March 5 at a night club in Milledgeville, Ga.

But Roethlisberger's attorney, Edward T. M. Garland, said yesterday an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations called him last week to tell him that they would no longer need the sample. Garland said he was told investigators had nothing to compare it to.

"After analyzing all the information … they advised me they had no need for us to go forward and furnish his DNA," he said.

Garland said Roethlisberger had returned to Georgia - though he would not say when - to make himself available if a sample needed to be collected.

"Ben had been requested to supply his DNA, had offered to supply it, and had agreed to supply it," Garland said, adding that he had never objected to providing a sample.

Officials of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations could not be reached for comment.

Forensic expert Dr. Cyril Wecht said the fact that police have declined to take a DNA sample from Roethlisberger means that it's likely there is no forensic evidence to back up the woman's claims.

"When you don't have any biological evidence, you have to decide whether you want to proceed with what the purported victim has stated," he said.

The woman who made the accusation, a student at Georgia State College & University, was examined at Oconee Regional Medical Center just hours after she told Milledgeville police that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her.

Dr. Wecht said it's likely she was examined for signs of sexual assault there. If police have no comparable sample, it's likely that the exam of her and her clothing yielded no foreign biological specimens, such as semen, hair, or saliva, he said.

But in their investigation, police have only indicated that they are investigating a "sexual assault" and have declined to elaborate on the accusations made against Roethlisberger. Dr. Wecht pointed out that some kinds of sexual assault - such as a "superficial altercation" - and some types of sexual contact - such as oral sex - could leave no biological calling cards.

And while he maintains his client's innocence, Garland has declined to comment on whether or not he thinks the police dropping the request means Roethlisberger is closer to be exonerated.

"The district attorney operates on his own time-table," Garland said. "I am not making comment or any prediction as to what's going to happen in this matter."

Garland has hired his own team of investigators to look into what transpired in the night the accusations were made and he anticipates his investigation will be complete within a few weeks.

He refused to say whether or not police had or would interviewed Roethlisberger, though they had said they would request an interview.

Earlier in the day, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger called him in the early hours of March 5 that a woman had just accused him of sexual assault in Georgia.

That, and a few other revelations, were disclosed yesterday by Tomlin as he discussed Roethlisberger and his situation for nearly 30 minutes with the news media at the NFL meetings in Orlando.

Tomlin, who Monday declined to discuss Roethlisberger, opened up like no other Steelers official about the quarterback's predicament in which he has been accused but not yet charged in the case that drew critical comments from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who wants to meet with Roethlisberger.

"He's well within his rights, of course, in terms of meeting with him," Tomlin said of the commissioner. "I share his concerns."

Tomlin said he has been in daily contact with his quarterback since the March 5 incident and has met with him as well.

The coach first heard about the incident, which occurred sometime in the first two hours after midnight in Milledgeville, Ga., when Roethlisberger called him.

"The sun wasn't up, but it technically wasn't the middle of the night," Tomlin said. "I've had pretty fluid daily contact with him really like I always do. Of course, these are different set of circumstances."

Tomlin mentioned that Steelers president Art Rooney II has spoken on the issue and that he did not need to say or do anything about his quarterback position at the moment. But he said that could change based on what comes out of the criminal investigation in Georgia.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ed Bouchette and Moriah Balingit are reporters for the Post-Gazette.



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