Guilty Verdict for Former Florida Band Leader In Charge of Hazing Ritual
The jury rejected defense attorneys’ claims that the hazing ritual, called “Crossing Bus C,” was a FAMU band tradition and the beating of victim Robert Champion did not involve malicious intent.
Defendant Dante Martin could be sentenced for up to 22 years in prison on the felony hazing and manslaughter charges. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for January 9th, 2015.
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.
Champion’s mother, Pam, gave a passionate plea after the sentencing hearing: ” “There’s no reason to celebrate, there’s no reason to be joyful. And the tears are not only, right now I don’t have any tears. But those tears – they will come, I can guarantee you – will not only be for my son but for this young man … [Martin] has to pay for what he has done. I won’t get my son back. But no one wins here.”
“That’s why they (Florida lawmakers) passed the hazing statute in 2002, it was to say this process has got to stop,” said state attorney Jeff Ashton. “It hasn’t worked…I hope the message that gets across to anyone out there who is thinking of participating in these very dangerous activities is that if you do it, and something goes wrong, you’re going to be responsible for it.”
“Tradition didn’t kill Robert Champion,” Ashton added. “Tradition isn’t to blame. Tradition is not an excuse…It’s not a defense to those that got caught.”
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