Ex-college band member gets four years for Florida hazing death

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 04, 2015 5:37 PM

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - A former member of a Florida college marching band was sentenced on Friday to four years in prison in the 2011 death of a drum major, concluding a series of criminal trials resulting from a case that drew wide attention to college hazing rituals.

Caleb Jackson, 26, pleaded no contest in 2013 to manslaughter and felony hazing in the death of Robert Champion, 26, a drum major for the celebrated Florida A&M University Marching “100” band.

Jackson received credit for the nearly 2-1/2 years that he has already served.

Prosecutors were asking for 10 years prison time, said Angela Starke, a spokeswoman for the state attorney's office in Orlando.

Champion died on a charter bus parked at an Orlando hotel in November 2011 after the band performed its world-famous high-energy, high-stepping show at a football game.

An autopsy showed Champion was beaten to death during the hazing ritual called "Crossing Bus C," in which an individual runs down the aisle of the percussionists’ travel bus while being pummeled by other band members.

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, concluding that Champion went into hemorrhagic shock due to extensive internal blood loss from trauma to his chest, arms, shoulders and back.

The case led to the suspension of a celebrated marching band that has performed at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and presidential inaugurations. Investigation of its longtime hazing rituals spurred changes at the historically black college in Tallahassee.

Jackson had agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of all other defendants, according to court records.

In all, prosecutors charged 15 band members. Percussionist leader Dante Martin, 28, described by prosecutors as the ringleader, was sentenced in January to six years and five months in prison after his conviction of manslaughter, felony hazing resulting in a death and misdemeanor hazing.

Three others, Benjamin McNamee, Aaron Golson and Darryl Cearnel, were convicted by a jury in April of manslaughter and felony hazing.

They were sentenced to 10 years probation by a Florida judge, who took into account the community service sentences received by 11 other band members who pleaded guilty after making deals with prosecutors.

One of them, Jessie Baskin, was also sentenced to 51 weeks in prison last year.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Beech)