ORLANDO, Fla. - A former Florida A&M University band member was sentenced Friday to more than six years in prison for manslaughter and felony hazing in the death of a drum major, making him the first to receive prison time in the case.
Dante Martin received 77 months, but prosecutors wanted nine years in the beating death of 26-year-old Robert Champion during a brutal hazing ritual in November 2011.
Judge Renee Roche said she chose to deviate from the recommended sentencing guideline for Martin because she believed it had been demonstrated that Champion had been a "willing participant" in the ritual.
About a dozen character witnesses testified on Martin's behalf. Roche said that the testimony and other letters of support demonstrated that Martin was "remarkable young man" and that she wanted to give a chance to have a life after prison.
Martin, who was shaking at times throughout the proceeding, also addressed Champion's parents. He expressed remorse for his actions.
"This is something I will live with for the rest of my life," Martin said.
Martin was convicted in October during a trial in which prosecutors said he was the ringleader of the ritual.
He was the first to stand trial in the death of Champion, who was from Decatur, Georgia.
The case brought into focus the culture of hazing in the band, which was suspended for more than a year while officials tried to clean up the program.
Previously, former band member Jessie Baskin received 51 weeks in county jail after pleading no contest to manslaughter charges. Several others have been sentenced to combinations of community service and probation.