News Column

Manslaughter Charges for 12 in FAMU Band Hazing

March 5, 2013

Melanie Eversley, and John Bacon, USA TODAY

A fatal beating that began as a welcome to the famed Florida A&M marching band and became a symbol for the anti-hazing movement has resulted in expanded charges.

Twelve former band members now face charges of manslaughter in the 2011 death of drum major Robert Champion.

The new charges were announced at a hearing Monday. Last spring, 10 band members were charged with third-degree felony hazing. A conviction could result in a prison term of up to six years; the additional charges can mean up to 15 years in prison.

State Attorney Jeff Ashton also filed charges against two more band members.

Champion's parents, Pamela and Robert Champion Sr., have sued the school and other parties.

FAMU issued an e-mail statement Monday saying, "Due to the pending civil litigation, the university has no comment at this time."

The Champions' lawyer, Christopher Chestnut, said they learned of the added charges last week in a meeting with Ashton via Skype. Ashton was the lead prosecutor in the unsuccessful 2011 case against Casey Anthony, charged in the death of her daughter, Caylee.

The Champions, who live in Decatur, Ga., had complained that the initial charges were too lenient.

"They are encouraged today," Chestnut said. "He (Ashton) felt that this was the appropriate charge -- that Robert wasn't hurt by hazing, he was killed by hazing."

Neither the Champions nor Ashton's office responded to phone calls requesting comment.

Two former band members pleaded guilty to hazing last year; they do not face new charges. They were sentenced to probation and community service.

Champion, 26, died in November 2011 after a hazing conducted by band members on a bus in Orlando after Florida A&M had played its football archrival, Bethune Cookman.

His death revealed a culture of hazing in the band, which has played at Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations. The band was suspended for this year.

Mary Madden, co-director of the National Collaborative on Hazing Research and Prevention, said the case "has brought sustained attention to how serious hazing can be and how serious those consequences can be. I understand a lot of that is attributable to his parents being willing to stay out front in the media, and I give them a lot of credit for that."

The Champions said their son was a vocal opponent of the band's routine hazing.

"He was murdered on that bus," Pamela Champion said, "and no one signs up for that."

(c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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