ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Defense attorneys rested Thursday in the trial of three former Florida A&M band members charged in the hazing death of a drum major, calling only a single witness who testified she saw two of the defendants in the front of a bus while 26-year-old Robert Champion was being beaten in the back of the bus.
Lasherry Codner testified that she got on the bus to get a phone charger and decided to stay to offer words of encouragement as the hazing ritual was in progress. She said two of the defendants — Benjamin McNamee and Aaron Golson — were at the front of the bus as Champion made his way from the middle to the back.
Under cross-examination, she conceded that she didn't know what role McNamee and Golson had played in the ritual before she boarded the bus. Codner previously pleaded no contest to felony hazing and avoided prison.
State Attorney Jeff Ashton asked her whether the idea of friends beating each other bothered her.
"The purpose is to be a part of a family," Codner said.
None of the defendants took the witness stand.
McNamee, Golson and Darryl Cearnel are the final three defendants charged in Champion's death. If convicted of manslaughter and hazing charges, each faces up to 15 years in prison.
Closing arguments were set for Friday.
After prosecutors rested their case on Thursday, Circuit Judge Renee Roche denied a defense request to acquit the defendants.
Defense attorneys said that prosecutors had failed to show there was a conspiracy and that they couldn't prove anyone was directly responsible for Champion's death in November 2011. Ashton told the judge that if she accepted that theory, "this can happen and no one is responsible."
The judge agreed with prosecutors, describing the hazing ritual that led to Champion's death as "a tried and true process with specific steps, followed in a specific way and with specific elements."
Champion's beating death aboard a band bus parked outside a hotel after a football game exposed a culture of hazing within the school's famed band. Champion, of Decatur, Georgia, went through what Ashton described as a three-step process that culminated with him running a gauntlet and being punched, kicked and struck with band instruments during a ritual known as "crossing Bus C." He collapsed and died a short time later.
On Thursday, the last prosecution witness was a pathologist who testified that Champion died from internal bleeding caused by blows to his body. Champion lost enough blood to go into shock, said Sara Irrgang, a former associated medical examiner.
At one point, the pathologist's testimony was halted briefly after a juror became upset over graphic photos and had to compose himself outside of the courtroom.
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