Three Florida band members on trial for hazing death of drum major

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 21, 2015 11:45 AM

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - Three former members of the Florida A&M University marching band members went on trial on Tuesday for manslaughter and felony hazing in the 2011 death of a drum major.

Prosecutors accused more than a dozen members of the school's acclaimed "Marching 100" band of submitting Robert Champion, 26, to a ritual beating on the band's bus to gain respect.

Benjamin McNamee, Aaron Golson and Darryl Cearnel are the last members of the band to go on trial in Champion's death and each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Out of 15 band members charged, only one other former band member, percussionist Dante Martin, chose to go to trial. Martin, who prosecutors called the ringleader, was found guilty and sentenced in January to more than six years in prison.

All but one of the others charged in the death accepted plea deals and received community service services. Jessie Baskin was sentenced last year to 51 weeks in jail.

The Florida A&M band, which has performed at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and presidential inaugurations, was suspended by the school for more than a year after Champion's death.

Authorities said Champion died from shock caused by severe bleeding after being hazed. The accused band members were charged with punching, kicking and striking Champion during a ritual known as "Crossing Bus C."

The incident prompted the resignation of several prominent school officials at the historically black college.

FAMU says it has since strengthened its anti-hazing policy, hired a compliance officer for the music department and a special assistant to the president to combat hazing, among other steps aimed at reducing violent behavior.

(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Bill Trott)