May 2, 2012
Florida authorities have brought felony hazing charges against 13 people in the death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, a prosecutor announced Wednesday.
“Robert Champion died as a result of being beaten,” State Attorney Lawson Lamar said. “His death is not linked to one sole strike but is attributed to multiple blows.”
The attorney for the victim’s family said the death was murder.
Joyce Dawley, the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando division, said one person was in custody and one was being sought out of state. Sheriff’s deputies and the FDLE were looking for the other 11 within Florida, she said.
The 13 face felony hazing charges. There were also 20 misdemeanor charges filed in the case, but it was not immediately clear how those specifically applied to the suspects.
Champion collapsed in Orlando on the bus, which was carrying members of FAMU’s Marching 100 after a November football game that included a halftime performance by the group.
Medical examiners ruled his death a homicide, saying he died “within an hour of a hazing incident during which he suffered multiple blunt trauma blows to his body.” ”This is a homicide by hazing,” Lamar said.
The case built by investigators “does not support a charge of murder,” Lamar said in Orlando. But it fits a state law that makes a hazing that results in death a felony with possible prison time up to five years. Under that law, the prosecution “only has to prove two things: participation in hazing and a death.” ”His death is not linked to one single strike,” the prosecutor said of Champion.
Attorney Chris Chestnut said Champion’s family doesn’t want to see the futures of students destroyed, but “they want accountability for the murder of their child.”
Authorities declined to name those charged because most were still being sought.
Some university band members have said Champion, 26, died after taking part in an annual rite of passage called “Crossing Bus C,” an initiation process in which pledges attempt to run down the center aisle from the front door of the bus to the back while being punched, kicked and assaulted by senior members. An autopsy found “extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back,” as well as “evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat,” which is the fatty tissue directly under the skin.
The death prompted the university board of trustees to approve an anti-hazing plan that includes an independent panel of experts to investigate.