ORLANDO (CBSMiami/AP) – State prosecutors have announced that 13 people have been charged in the death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion who died after he was beaten during a hazing ritual.
State Attorney Lawson Lamar said 11 of the 13 people will face a hazing resulting death charge, a third-degree felony. If convicted, they could face up to nearly six years in prison. The other two people will face a misdemeanor charges.
The names of those charged will not be released until they are all arrested, Lamar said. It was also not immediately clear whether they were all band members.
Champion’s mother said she was disappointed prosecutors didn’t file more serious charges against the 13 defendants. But Pam Champion says she is glad charges have been filed finally.
The charges come five months after Champion’s death aboard a chartered bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.
Detectives said Champion was hazed by other band members following a performance against a rival school and witnesses told emergency dispatchers Champion was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.
The medical examiner’s office in Orlando ruled that Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him.
The charges range from misdemeanors to felonies, said Danielle Tavernier, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office in Orlando.
Hazing that involves bodily harm is a third-degree felony in Florida.
Florida’s hazing law was passed in 2005 following the death of another Florida college student. The law defines hazing as any act that endangers the health or safety of a student for the purpose of admission to a school group.
“I’ve never seen it personally used but this is the text book case for it,” McClean said.
The charges will bring more scrutiny to a culture of hazing at FAMU and other schools. Champion’s death was ruled a homicide by medical examiners, and the case has jeopardized the future of FAMU’s legendary marching band and shaken the school’s Tallahassee campus.
Champion’s parents, Pam and Robert, believe the filing of charges is “bittersweet,” said their attorney, Christopher Chestnut.
“Obviously it’s comforting to know that someone will be held accountable for Robert’s murder, but it’s also disconcerting to think of the impact of the future of these students,” Chestnut said. “This is just unfortunate all the way around.”
Chestnut said family members were disappointed that authorities didn’t give them enough advance notice to travel from Georgia to Florida to attend Wednesday’s conference Wednesday which announced the results of the investigation.
Champion’s parents have sued the company that owns the bus where the hazing took place. In a civil lawsuit, Champion’s family alleges that the bus driver stood guard outside the bus while the hazing took place. The bus company owner initially said the bus driver was helping other band members with their equipment when the hazing took place.
Witnesses in the Champion case have told his parents he might have been targeted because he opposed the culture of hazing they say has long existed in the band, said Chestnut. It has also been suggested to them that Champion was targeted because he was gay and a candidate for chief drum major.
In a January interview with The Associated Press, Champion’s parents dismissed the notion that his sexual orientation brought on the attack, which was, to their knowledge, the first time he’d ever been hazed.
“The main reason that we heard is because he was against hazing, and he was totally against it,” said Robert Champion.
FAMU has suspended the band and launched a task force to recommend steps it could take to curtail hazing.
Three FAMU band members were arrested in the Oct. 31 beating of a female band member whose thigh was broken.
Also Tuesday, a lawyer for two FAMU music professors who allegedly were present during the unrelated hazing of band fraternity pledges in early 2010 said they have been forced out.
FAMU spokeswoman Sharon Saunders said university officials haven’t been given details about possible criminal charges.
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