Hazing Wrongful Death Criminal Trial Begins Against Former FAMU Band Member
Three years after a hazing ritual killed a band member at the Florida A&M University, the perpetrator will finally stand trial on serious criminal manslaughter charges.
Drum major Robert Champion died at the hands of his band members, and early on, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university for allowing such behavior. However, his death in the hazing ritual gone awry was later ruled a homicide, and defendant Dante Martin, 27, how faces manslaughter charges in criminal court.
If convicted, Martin faces up to 15 years in prison.
The hazing ritual, called “Crossing Bus C” by band members, involved the victim running down the aisle of the bus while other members of the percussion section kicked and punched him.
Martin’s defense attorney has argued that the hazing ritual is less extreme than other physical competitions organized or allowed by Florida A&M University, including a Tough Mudder competition in which participants sign a “death waiver.”
On this particular school band trip, Champion’s hotel roommate Lanauze (Keon) Hollis testified that he and Champion debated taking part in the hazing ritual, as both had risen to leadership positions in the band without taking part. Ultimately, however, they decided that they could not gain the full respect of the percussion section unless they took part.
“As an authority figure in the band, it got a bit frustrating when you’re trying to tell the (percussion) members — you know, give directions — and they’re just blatantly disrespecting you just because you’re not in some organization that they’re part of,” Hollis said, explaining in a sworn statement why he gave in. “I did it for the same reason everybody else does: to get respect.”
According to police investigators, when the two bandmates agreed to take part in the hazing ritual, Martin alerted up to 20 members of the band to wait for the pair inside the unlocked, unlit bus.
Associate medical examiner Sara Irrgang testified that Champion died from hemorrhagic shock. He had no broken bones, but his body was covered in numerous bruises, and Irrgang compared his injuries to those suffered by a farmworker run over by a tractor.
Nine of the fifteen criminally charged band members have been sentenced to probation and community service so far. One criminal hazing case was dismissed, and one band member was sentenced to only 51 weeks in prison.
However, Martin played a particularly large role in the deadly hazing ritual. He is one of four ex FAMU band members still fighting criminal charges, and has been identified as the “Bus C President.” He allegedly “prepped” Champion for the hazing ritual by repeatedly slapping the percussionist’s chest.
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