ORLANDO, Fla. – Twelve former members of a university band have been charged with manslaughter in the 2011 hazing death of a drum major.
Ten of the Florida A&M University 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, which was announced during a status hearing Monday afternoon, 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.
Champion’s death drew attention to the brutal practice of hazing — or an endurance ritual for new members of an organization — among marching bands at some U.S. colleges.
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 because the charges 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.
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. Both initially pleaded not guilty.
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 in court that it was a consensus 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.
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