The Howard County state's attorney yesterday declined to prosecute former Dunbar High School basketball star David Wingate on second-degree rape and related charges by placing the case on an inactive criminal docket for one year. The action may pave the way for Wingate to return to the San Antonio Spurs.
William R. Hymes, the state's attorney, responded to a request by a Baltimore teen-ager who testified last week that she had been raped last fall at a party in Columbia but wanted the charges dropped to avoid the pain of a trial. Wingate told police that the sexual intercourse he had with the teen-ager was consentual.
Based on the prosecutor's action, the charges of second-degree rape, fourth-degree sexual offense and assault and battery will be dropped automatically after one year if Wingate is not charged with a crime during that period. The charges against Wingate were based on the 17-year-old girl's complaints that she was sexually assaulted at Wingate's Columbia apartment Sept. 16 after getting drunk on beer and tequila.
"I am happy to have everything behind me so I can get back to basketball, hopefully with the Spurs," Wingate said after the prosecutor's decision was announced.
Hymes said he decided not to prosecute the case because he was concerned that a trial "might cause the young lady serious emotional problems in the future if we forced her into it.
"She and her father wanted to get the case behind her so she could get on with her life. She plans to attend college, and the trial would have been held in August, which would have been traumatic for her when all her college friends would bring it up."
The state's attorney said that he also talked over the case with several citizens, and he said he was advised that "a jury would never convict Wingate when it came out she was trying to end the prosecution."
It was the second time in recent months that sexual-assault charges against Wingate have not been prosecuted. $ 1/8 Prosecutors in San Antonio recently dropped similar charges filed by a 22-year-old Texas woman, who claimed Wingate raped her in June 1990. A civil suit filed by the woman was settled out of court, but the terms were not disclosed.
"Every person in public life is a potential target of allegations, and that is why David and others like him are held to higher standards and have to be more careful," said Wingate's attorney, Philip H. Armstrong. "If there is any lesson he has carried away, it is that."
Wingate, 27, said: "Of course, I have grown up. . . . People will think what they want. Most of the people who know me think I am a good guy who is getting on the right path."
Wingate said he has been working out three days a week and believes he is in shape to return to the National Basketball Association. Wingate said he anticipated criticism from the fans, but added: "I am mentally strong. I have been mentally abused growing up by those who said I would never make it. I do what I do best. I play basketball."
Before resuming his professional career, Wingate first must receive clearance from the NBA. Wingate's agent, William Strickland, said he will meet with Spurs coach Larry Brown before the team's game Sunday against the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre.
"I don't see any legitimate reason why he should not be able to return," Strickland said.
Spurs general manager Bob Bass said: "We haven't had time to sift through this whole thing yet."
If Wingate is cleared by the league, even if the Spurs don't add him to the roster, the club will owe him a salary for the rest of the season. Before his legal problems last summer, Wingate signed a qualifying offer with the Spurs that guarantees him a one-year salary of $480,000. The salary would be prorated for the remainder of the season.