By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The Florida college marching band member killed in a brutal 2011 hazing wanted to submit to the ritual and received permission from the head drum major to participate on the night he died, according to testimony released by prosecutors on Wednesday.
Robert Champion, 26, was beaten to death on board Bus C, part of a fleet of 11 buses and a limousine that ferried the Florida A & M University marching band to the Florida Classic football game and band competition in Orlando in November 2011.
Champion's family has described the drum major as being opposed to hazing.
But head drum major Jonathan Boyce told investigators in a taped statement that he gave Champion permission because the football season was over and Bus C students were calling him for his last-minute approval to put Champion through the ordeal.
"I was like 'Robert they're texting me ... Do you still want to do it?' So he was like 'yes.' I was like fine," according to a transcript of Boyce's testimony.
He described the hazing ritual as "a respect thing" and said "He (Champion) was wanting to do it all ... all season,"
Boyce is one of 13 arrested in the death of Champion, who died of blunt trauma injuries. Eleven of the defendants have been charged with a third-degree felony for "hazing with death," which is punishable under Florida law with a maximum of six years in prison. Two others face a misdemeanor charge.
Boyce, 24, is among those charged with the third-degree felony.
Champion's death, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, pulled back the curtain on the band's long history of physically abusive hazing.
The famed "Marching 100," made up of approximately 460 musicians, is known for its high-stepping showmanship. The band is credited with the widespread transformation of college bands from the traditional military-precision style to more innovative pageantry.
The hazing ritual, described by several band members in depositions released on Wednesday, involved the "hot seat" in which a student is beaten in a bus seat, and the "crossing" in which the student is beaten while making his or her way down the aisle to touch the back wall.
According to the transcript, Boyce said Champion was down on one knee and within two feet of the back of the bus when he arrived. Boyce said he climbed over the bus seats to reach Champion to help him reach the goal while other students were pulling Champion in the opposite direction to prevent him from touching the wall.
"So I grab him, uh, to try to keep everybody off of him. I grab him and I'm pulling him and I'm pulling him. And I see people ... people are kicking him so I, um, stop them from kicking him and I put my body around his body. And I'm just pulling, me, uh, me and Shawn," Boyce said, referring to a fellow drum major.
"I was like Shawn we gotta pull harder ... We yanked him, uh, real hard and he came loose from everybody else and he hit the wall ... And so then it was over. They can't touch him anymore," Boyce said.
Boyce told investigators that students started leaving the bus.
"He (Champion) was fine. He was like yeah, yeah, I'm okay. Um, I just, um, I'm just tired and I ... I want something to drink."
Boyce said he gave Champion some Gatorade and told him to go rest in his room. When Boyce got to the hotel door, he noticed Champion wasn't coming and went back to the bus. There, he said, he found Champion still in the back of the bus panicking, saying he was having trouble breathing and couldn't see.
Boyce said Champion passed out but still had a pulse. Boyce said he helped carry Champion to the front of the bus, then went to the hotel to figure out what to do. By the time he returned, paramedics were on the scene.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Xavier Briand)