By Armeesha C. Piedra
ORLANDO, Fla.–On Oct. 27, the four band members of Florida A & M University’s marching band began trial after being accused of initiating new members through a hazing process.
Darryl Cearnel, Aaron Golson, Benjamin McNamee and Dante Martin, who pled not guilty, face charges for hazing and manslaughter, three years after Robert Champion, drum major for the Marching 100, died from being beaten throughout the ritual.
The death of Champion, 26, put a huge focus on hazing at FAMU and other colleges, which caused the band to be suspended for a year and for FAMU’s President James H. Ammons to resign.
In Nov. 2011, after a football game in Orlando, band members boarded a bus outside of their hotel and beat two band leaders, including Champion and Lanauze (Keon) Hollis, with mallets, fists and drumsticks, as they tried to make their way to the back of the bus.
“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.”
Once they made it to the back, Champion vomited and said that he was having a hard time catching his breath. Soon after, he fell out and could not be revived. The autopsy reports showed that he died from internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock or a lack of adequate blood flow to organs in the body, which causing his organs to shut down.
According to news reports, prosecutors charged 15 ex-band members in Champion’s death. Nine have been sentenced to probation and community service, one case being dismissed, with Jessie Baskin, 22, who admitted participating in the hazing process, receiving a maximum jail sentence of 51 weeks.
Jeff Ashton, a ninth circuit state attorney for the case, said he wants jurors to research and understand the history of hazing when it comes to FAMU’s marching band, so they can understand that this is something that has been happening and will continue to happen if the right procedures aren’t taken.
“They got on the bus for one thing and that is to break the law,” Ashton said at a recent hearing. “The jury has to understand this wasn’t an isolated incident, that these four defendants knew what they were doing and that they were breaking the law.”
Florida jury found former FAMU marching band member Dante Martin guilty of manslaughter in the fatal hazing process of drum major Robert Champion. The AP reports Martin is schedule d to be sentenced Jan. 9. He could face up to 15 years in prison.