The attorney for the family of Robert Champion said, “These charges are commensurate with the acts committed. It sends the right message regarding zero-tolerance of hazing in the FAMU band.”
The Florida State Attorney’s Office announced Monday during a status hearing that they are increasing the charges against 12 former Florida A&M University band members from felony hazing to manslaughter in the 2011 death of 26-year-old Robert Champion who was a drum major. The Associated Press reports, “Ten of the band members had been charged last May with third-degree felony hazing for the death … 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 new charges could mean a penalty of up to 15 years in prison if the defendants are convicted.
Champion, who died in Orlando in November, 2011, was savagely beaten during a hazing ritual after Florida A&M played Bethune-Cookman in their yearly “rivalry football game.” The cause of death was internal bleeding, and authorities said, “Champion had bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back.” FAMU has made “sweeping changes” since Champion’s death to put an end to hazing on campus, but the entire band still remains suspended indefinitely and they University has yet to name a replacement for the band director.
David S. Weinstein, who is a formal federal prosecutor told the AP it would actually be easier for prosecutors to prove felony hazing than manslaughter. He said, “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.” But he also points out that it is “not unusual for prosecutors to go ahead with the lesser charge while still gathering evidence and then later upgrade.”
Another status hearing has been scheduled for August, but with over 100 individuals on the prosecution’s witness list alone, it will still be some time before the case goes to trial.
Photo: AP/Joseph Brown III