"The sexual allegation against Mr. Roethlisberger cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," Bright said. "Therefore, there will be no arrest made or criminal prosecution of Mr. Roethlisberger for his actions on March 5, 2010."
The announcement effectively ends the criminal investigation of Roethlisberger's conduct inside a night club in the small college town of Milledgeville, Ga. Roethlisberger, who has a house about 30 minutes up the road, and some friends set up in the back of the club where allegedly only attractive females were allowed to enter in the early morning hours of March 5.
"We are not condoning Mr. Roethlisberger's actions that night, but we do not prosecute morals," Bright said. "We prosecute crimes."
That doesn't mean Roethlisberger will escape punishment altogether, either by the NFL or the Steelers. The Steelers dealt another troubled player, receiver Santonio Holmes, to the New York Jets on Sunday after he was implicated in an off-the-field incident, a move that some observers thought could be viewed as a wake-up call for Roethlisberger.
"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 something like this never happens again," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. "The Pittsburgh Steelers take the conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail that commissioner Roger Goodell will meet with Roethlisberger privately in the near future. Goodell could choose to suspend Roethlisberger under the league's personal conduct policy.
"After consultation with the commissioner, our organization will determine the next steps in this process," Rooney said.
Tom Davis, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told reporters that a member of the NFL security team had contacted his office on several occasions over the last month.
Roethlisberger read from a statement at the team's headquarters Monday evening, his first public comments since the allegation surfaced.
"I am happy to put this behind me and move forward," said Roethlisberger, who didn't take questions from reporters. "I am truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention I have brought to my family, my teammates, coaches, the Rooneys and the NFL. . . . I have much work to do to earn this trust. I am committed to improving and showing everyone my true values."
Roethlisberger said he didn't want to discuss the details of the case, often lurid particulars that could make some kind of sanction by the league or the Steelers hard to escape.
Two Pennsylvania law enforcement officers who were part of the Roethlisberger's group served as bodyguards that night, and one led the 20-year-old accuser down the hallway to a tiny bathroom in the club's VIP section. Roethlisberger, whose group supplied alcohol to the accuser and other women at the night club as well as previous bars that night, followed the accuser into the bathroom a short time later.
"I told him it wasn't OK," the accuser said in a written statement made public and reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "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 OK."
A short time later, she reported to police she'd been sexually assaulted. Bright said the accuser was "highly intoxicated" at the time of the incident and an examination done in the hours after the alleged incident could not conclusively show a sexual assault took place, although the accuser had a "superficial laceration and bruising and bleeding in the genital area."
A small amount of male DNA was discovered during the examination, but the sample size was too "minute" to analyze.
Bright said he received a letter on March 17 informing him that she did not want to pursue criminal charges.
"The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Milledgeville Police Department and I personally met with her, her family and her attorney 10 days ago," Bright said. "They all unanimously reconfirmed their position that they did not want to pursue this matter any further."
Lee Parks, the attorney for the accuser, said in a statement the decision not to proceed "was made in consultation with our client's therapist and her parents who fully supported her decision." He said intense media scrutiny played a role.
"We are appreciative that our client's request that this matter be closed has been honored by the district attorney," Parks said. "It is our sincere hope the district attorney's decision will conclude the matter, and that the media respects the family's privacy going forward."
Bright's office has followed the case closely, but only took the full report from the Milledgeville Police Department and the George Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday. His office reviewed dozens of interviews included in the report along with medical records from the accuser's medical examination.
This is the second allegation of sexual assault made against Roethlisberger in less than a year, although this is the first time he's faced prosecution. An employee of a hotel in Lake Tahoe, Nev., filed a lawsuit in July 2009 that alleged Roethlisberger assaulted her the previous July when he was in town for a golf tournament.
The accuser in the Milledgeville case could pursue a similar lawsuit.