12 Charged with Manslaughter in Hazing Death
From Joe Sutton
(CNN) — Twelve former students now face manslaughter charges in the November 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion Jr., attorneys familiar with the case said Monday.
Ten of them were previously charged with felony hazing resulting in death. They and two new defendants will now also be charged with manslaughter, said Craig Brown, the attorney for one of the students.
State Attorney Jeff Ashton “thought the proper charges in the case would be manslaughter and hazing with death,” explained Assistant State Attorney Nicole Pegues in an e-mail sent to the defendants’ attorneys.
Brown’s client, Aaron Golson, was among those charged with third-degree felony hazing. He now also faces a manslaughter charge, according to Brown.
“I really find this to be a tactic by the state to pressure all of the defendants into some sort of prison time,” Brown told CNN. “Clearly a manslaughter charge could have been brought about initially.”
The defendants face a maximum of 15 years in prison with the charge, if convicted, Brown said. He expects the next hearing to be in September.
Champion, 26, died after a band hazing ritual in which he was beaten aboard a school bus after a football game in Orlando, Florida. The initiation requires pledges to run down the center of the bus while being punched, kicked and assaulted by senior members, band members have said.
A medical examiner ruled Champion’s death a homicide and said he died within an hour of being beaten. Champion suffered multiple blunt trauma blows, the medical examiner said.
The lawyer for Champion’s parents said Monday they feel the manslaughter charge is appropriate.
“Robert Champion wasn’t injured by hazing, he was killed by hazing,” attorney Christopher Chestnut told CNN. “The family is encouraged by … that (and feels) this is the right message and hopes that this is the right message regarding hazing.”
One student who was involved in Champion’s death was convicted in October of felony hazing resulting in death. Bryan Jones pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months of community control, two years of supervised probation and 200 hours of community service.
Florida A&M was put on a one-year probation in December for its handling of the incident, and the famed band was suspended for the 2012-13 school year.
The school has said it is making reforms to address the problem of hazing both on and off campus, including requiring students to sign an anti-hazing pledge.
The school’s band, known as the Marching 100, is one of the top university marching bands in the United States, famed for its elaborate dance formations and innovative style incorporating popular music.
CNN’s Chandler Friedman contributed to this report.