Juventus and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo will not face criminal charges for allegedly raping a woman in a penthouse at Las Vegas’s Palms Casino Resort more than 10 years ago.
This development occurred on Monday, when the Office of Clark County (Nevada) District Attorney Steven Wolfson announced that it has declined to prosecute Ronaldo. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) was unable to identify probable cause–meaning sufficient facts and implicating testimony–to conclude that Ronaldo committed sexual assault. Likewise, prosecutors are unconvinced that they could persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Ronaldo is guilty.
As previously detailed on SI.com, Nevada resident Kathryn Mayorga claims that Ronaldo raped her in his penthouse suite on Friday, June 12, 2009, after the two met at Rain Nightclub in the Palms. Her story came to light in a detailed account published by German outlet Der Spiegel last fall, and while her quest for justice in the form of criminal charges won't be fulfilled, she still has a civil case open against Ronaldo in federal court.
Here's a closer look at where things stand after this latest, major development and why the Clark County District Attorney reached this conclusion:
Explaining law enforcement’s decision
Under the applicable Nevada statute of limitations for the crime of sexual assault, Ronaldo will remain eligible to be criminally charged until 2029. As a practical matter, though, the criminal case against him is over. There have been two police investigations, the first in 2009 and the second occurring over the last year. Neither identified sufficient grounds to charge Ronaldo.
There are several explanations for this outcome.
As a starting point, law enforcement encountered significant difficulties in conducting its investigation. According to the District Attorney’s statement, Mayorga initially declined to share important details with LVMPD detectives. Most crucially, while Mayorga knew the identity of the person who assaulted her, she allegedly “refused to identify [Ronaldo] or disclose where the crime occurred.” Without such information, the police were “unable to follow investigative protocols for sexual assault cases or conduct any meaningful investigation.”
Similarly, without knowledge of the perpetrator’s identity, “detectives were unable to search for an impound vital forensic evidence.” As an important consequence, surveillance video that might have showed Mayorga and Ronaldo speaking not long before he allegedly raped her was “lost.” The District Attorney also highlights that Mayorga and Ronaldo reached an out-of-court settlement and that, for the following eight years, Mayorga made no contact with detectives.
In Mayorga’s defense, she has offered a very different account of her interactions with the police. She insists that a LVMPD detective (as well as health care professionals who treated her) strongly discouraged her from implicating Ronaldo. The unnamed detective also warned her that she would only feel additional humiliation by going public with her accusation against such a prominent athlete. Furthermore, she believes that representatives of Ronaldo had a source within the police department who worked against her case.
Regardless of whether the recollections of law enforcement or Mayorga of their 2009 meetings are accurate, the reality is that if Ronaldo was going to be criminally charged, it was most likely going to have happened not long after the alleged incident. The most compelling evidence and testimony related to a crime are normally secured immediately, or shortly after, the crime occurred. As time goes on, evidence can be lost, destroyed or damaged. Also, the quality and accuracy of witness recollections tend to diminish over time. Some witnesses, meanwhile, become unavailable due to death, health problems or moving away. In other words, a criminal case usually gets weaker over time, not stronger.
Along those lines, it’s unlikely that additional evidence or testimony will surface that would alter law enforcement’s reasoning on whether Ronaldo committed sexual assault. To the extent that Mayorga’s civil litigation against Ronaldo could lead to evidence that implicates him, Ronaldo could try to settle the litigation before it does so.
Prosecuting Ronaldo would have been tricky
Ronaldo has been a challenging person to investigate and would have been even more difficult to prosecute.
For starters, Ronaldo resides in Turin, Italy. He is thus well outside of the legal jurisdiction of Clark County, the State of Nevada or the United States of America. If Ronaldo had been charged with a crime in Nevada, he presumably would not have voluntarily traveled to the U.S. to defend himself.
If Ronaldo had refused to appear in a Nevada court, the U.S. could have sought to extradite him from Italy (or, if he returns to his home country, Portugal). Extradition, however, is a complicated and often lengthy process. It involves the U.S. State Department and would have ultimately required the consent of a judge in the country where Ronaldo resides. Ronaldo would have been poised to depict any U.S. extradition attempt as politically-charged and designed to advance the careers of Nevada prosecutors who crave fame and recognition. Ronaldo might also have been inclined to raise doubts about whether he could receive a fair trial in Las Vegas.
The challenge of prosecuting Ronaldo has already been shown. Earlier this year, the LVMPD issued a search warrant to obtain a DNA sample from Ronaldo. The problem: the LVMPD had no ability to force Ronaldo to comply. Executing a search warrant on Ronaldo in Italy would require approval by Italian tribunal, whose decision could be appealed.
It’s also not realistic to expect that Ronaldo would have been tried in absentia. Both Nevada law and Italian law instruct that a defendant must be present in order to ensure a fair trial. If Ronaldo was going to be prosecuted, he would have needed to be present.
Ronaldo also has the financial wherewithal to contest every aspect of a prosecution. He is reportedly worth in the ballpark of $450 million. He could hire a small army of criminal defense attorneys. While a defendant’s wealth should never be a factor in a decision to prosecute, the odds of securing a conviction against Ronaldo are probably lower by virtue of his resources. Along those lines, prosecutors bring cases they believe they can win. It’s clear that Clark County prosecutors doubted they would have been able to convince a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, of Ronaldo’s guilt.
Mayorga’s federal civil case remains an ongoing matter
While Monday’s news is surely disappointing to Mayorga and her attorney, Leslie Stovall, Mayorga’s federal civil case against Ronaldo continues.
Stated differently, Mayorga’s civil case is not predicated on Clark County’s criminal case. They are completely separate legal matters that involve different burdens of persuasion and procedural rules. A criminal case requires probable cause to charge and beyond a reasonable doubt to convict. A civil case requires a preponderance of the evidence (sometimes called “more probable than not”), a far lower standard than required for a criminal conviction. To be sure, Mayorga’s civil case would have been strengthened by Ronaldo being charged, but a charge is a not perquisite to the case.
In January, Mayorga sued Ronaldo in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada for battery, abuse, defamation, negligence and seven other claims. Mayorga’s federal court filing followed her filing a nearly identical lawsuit in Clark County District Court last September. Mayorga moved her case to federal court for several reasons, including the ability to gain more time to serve notice on Ronaldo.
While a civil case requires less than a criminal prosecution, Mayorga’s case nonetheless faces significant hurdles.
Most importantly, she and Ronaldo already agreed to settle their case in 2009. In exchange for Mayorga both relinquishing any legal claims she might have had against Ronaldo and destroying any implicating evidence, Ronaldo agreed to pay her $375,000. She now maintains that the settlement is void on the theory that, due to suffering mental distress and substandard legal advice, she lacked the ability to sign an enforceable contract. She also contends that Ronaldo failed to personally read a letter from her, which was a condition to the settlement.
Ronaldo and his attorneys will soon file a motion to dismiss–or, in the alternative, a motion to compel arbitration–according to court records obtained by SI.com. In the filing, which occurred on June 14, Ronaldo’s attorneys sought permission to file a motion that would be 46 pages long. Permission is needed since a court rule limits length to 24 pages.
When substantive defense filings are made, expect Ronaldo’s attorneys to firmly deny Mayorga’s account. They might also stress that to the extent Mayorga was misled by her attorney in 2009, a malpractice suit against that attorney would be the correct remedy.
Ronaldo has reportedly avoided traveling to the U.S. over the last year for fear of being arrested. This fear is based on the idea that Nevada law enforcement might wait to obtain charges against Ronaldo until he physically entered the U.S. After appearing on U.S. soil, Ronaldo could then be charged and detained before he fled the country. Nevada law enforcement would need to work with authorities in the U.S. state where Ronaldo is located to execute an out-of-state arrest warrant. He would then be extradited to Nevada.
Such a movie-like plot was far-fetched. Not only was the risk of Ronaldo being charged with a crime fairly low, but the sequence of events described would have required multiple procedural steps as well approvals of different law enforcement agencies and courts.
Ronaldo can now enter the U.S. without worry about being criminally charged. He could still be subpoenaed as part of Mayorga’s civil litigation; however, the litigation only threatens him with the risk of having to pay money. Further, it can be difficult to enforce out-of-state subpoenas, which would be a relevant point should Ronaldo avoid entry into Nevada.
Ronaldo could eliminate any worry by simply reaching a financial settlement with Mayorga. While he might be less willing to negotiate a deal with her given that she is suing to undo their first settlement, it’s a less complicated situation with the criminal investigation over.
Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.