Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

March 5, 2013

12 charged with manslaughter in FAMU death

ORLANDO, Fla. — Twelve former Florida A&M University band members were charged Monday with manslaughter in the 2011 hazing death of a drum major.

Ten of the band members had been charged last May with third-degree felony hazing for the death of 26-year-old Robert Champion, but the state attorney’s office said they are adding the charge of manslaughter for each defendant. They also have charged two additional defendants with manslaughter, though they have yet to be arrested.

The second-degree manslaughter charge announced during an afternoon status hearing carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

Champion died in Orlando in November 2011 after he collapsed following what prosecutors say was a savage beating during a hazing ritual. It happened on a bus parked in a hotel parking lot after Florida A&M played Bethune-Cookman in their annual rivalry football game.

Authorities said Champion had bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back and died of internal bleeding. Witnesses told emergency dispatchers that the drum major was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.

Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Champion’s parents, said Pam and Robert Champion, Sr. were pleased with Ashton’s decision to upgrade the charges.

“These charges are commensurate with the acts committed,” Chestnut said. “It sends the right message regarding zero-tolerance of hazing in the FAMU band.”

Prosecutors had originally filed felony hazing charges that only required that they prove the defendants took part in a hazing that resulted in death. It didn’t require them to prove who struck the fatal blows.

A spokesman for State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s office said the prosecutor would not comment. Ashton, a 30-year veteran who was on the team that failed to convict Casey Anthony of murder in 2011, was sworn in as the area’s top prosecutor in January after beating his former boss in a hotly contested election.

David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Miami, said it would be easier to prove felony hazing charges than it would be to prove manslaughter.

“The easy way out is you charge them with felony hazing. That’s what they decided to do initially. You’re still holding someone accountable,” Weinstein said. “Now you have somebody new who comes in, takes a look at the evidence, and for a combination of reasons decides the manslaughter charge is warranted.”

Weinstein also said it was not unusual for prosecutors to go ahead with the lesser charge while still gathering evidence and then later upgrade.

Two former band members whose cases were resolved last year weren’t among those charged Monday. Brian Jones and Ryan Dean have already been sentenced after pleading no-contest to third-degree felony hazing last year.

Jones was sentenced last October to six months of community control, which strictly limits his freedom with measures including frequent check-ins with probation officials. He also was given two years of probation and required to perform 200 hours of community service.

Dean was sentenced the following month and received four years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Judge Marc Lubet conferenced with all the attorneys involved before Monday’s hearing and said they all agreed that because of a witness list that includes more than 100 people, a June trial date was unlikely.

He has set another status hearing in the case for August.

Since Champion’s death FAMU has made sweeping changes to fight hazing. The band remains suspended and there still has not been a time announced for its return. The university is still searching to find a new director for the band.

FAMU’s board held an emergency meeting last month to discuss the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Champion family, though there were no final decisions made. Interim FAMU President Larry Robinson said the board was authorized to continue trying for a resolution with the family.

The Champions, who live in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Ga., claim university officials did not take enough action to stop hazing in the famed Marching 100 band before the death of their son. They rejected a previous offer to settle the case for $300,000.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP600421099 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Robot_Rich copy.jpg NASA’s Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nepal Everest Avalanc_Rich copy.jpg Another body pulled from snow in avalanche

    Search teams recovered a 13th body Saturday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mount Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results