Florida charges 13 in death of FAMU drum major
(CNN) — Florida authorities have brought charges against 13 people in the suspected hazing 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 in Orlando. “His death is not linked to one sole strike but is attributed to multiple blows.”
The attorney for the victim’s family called the death a murder and said relatives were “disappointed” that more severe charges were not filed.
Eleven individuals face one count of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death, according to officials. They each also are accused of two counts of first-degree misdemeanor hazing.
Two people each face a single count of misdemeanor first-degree hazing.
Authorities declined to name those charged because most were still being sought.
Two unidentified suspects were being held Wednesday afternoon at the Leon County Jail, according to Lt. James McQuaig, spokesman for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. FAMU is in Tallahassee, the Leon County seat.
Joyce Dawley, the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando division, said one person was being sought out of state.
Champion collapsed in Orlando on a bus, which was carrying members of FAMU’s Marching 100 after a November 2011 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, who termed the case “complicated.”
The case built by investigators “does not support a charge of murder,” he said.
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.”
Attorney Chris Chestnut said the drum major’s parents, Pam and Robert Champion, don’t want to see the futures of students destroyed, but “they want accountability for the murder of their child.”
He called the charges a “bittersweet” moment for the Champions.
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.
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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.
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The school’s band director, meanwhile, asked for full reinstatement Wednesday.
An attorney for Julian White, placed on paid administrative leave shortly after Champion’s death, said White worked to root out hazing over 22 years as director.
“Dr. White remains disappointed that barely 48 hours after meeting with band members that Robert Champion was killed in an extreme, horrific and illegal act of bullying,” White’s attorney, Chuck Hobbs, said in a statement.
The death prompted the university board of trustees to approve an anti-hazing plan that includes an independent panel of experts to investigate.
FAMU said Wednesday that it has taken significant steps against hazing.
“We are vigorously working to eradicate hazing from FAMU and doing everything within our power to ensure an incident like this never happens again,” President James H. Ammons and Solomon Badger, chairman of the trustees, said in a statement. “Our hearts and our prayers are with the Champion family and the extended FAMU family as we all continue to deal with this tragedy.”