Family: Disband FAMU band to stop hazing

An undated family photo of Robert Champion
Courtesy: Robert Champion's family

(AP) ORLANDO, Fla. - There was no single blow, stomp or strike to Robert Champion's bruised and battered body that killed him as he was pummeled by fellow Florida A&M University marching band members during a hazing ritual aboard a charter bus last fall.

Instead, his death was caused by multiple blows from many individuals. That inability to pinpoint which blow ultimately caused the 26-year-old drum major's death led authorities to charge 13 defendants Wednesday with hazing rather than more serious counts like manslaughter or second-degree murder.

"His death is not linked to one sole strike but it is attributed to multiple blows," said State Attorney Lawson Lamar at a news conference announcing the charges.

Champion's mother, Pam, said Thursday that the only way to stop hazing in FAMU's marching band is to disband the program until the root of the hazing problem is addressed.

"You've got to clean house," Pam Champion said in Atlanta. "That's the only thing."

Champion's father, Robert Champion Sr., added: "The band should not be on the field until they clean house. Until they get it completely clean. There are 400 other students who are also in the band, and the same thing can happen to them."

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Some legal experts said they believe Lamar could have filed manslaughter, or even second-degree murder counts, against the participants who conducted the hazing after the FAMU marching band had performed at a football game against its rival school.

"The prosecutor in this case had an opportunity to do something, to send a stronger message, a deserved message based on the conduct," said Tamara Lave, a University of Miami law professor. "And the prosecutor didn't."

Lamar said his office didn't have the evidence to bring more serious charges.

"The testimony obtained to date does not support a charge of murder, in that it does not contain the elements of murder," he said. "We can prove participation in hazing and a death. We do not have a blow or a shot or a knife thrust that killed Mr. Champion. It is an aggregation of things which exactly fit the Florida statute as written by the Legislature."

Champion's family and their attorney said they were extremely disappointed that murder charges were not filed.

"Here while all eyes are on Florida was the opportunity to set the stage and say, `This won't be accepted,"' Pam Champion said.

"I was not happy with felony hazing charges. That word, hazing, just doesn't fit it."

Former Miami-Dade prosecutor Michael Grieco said Lamar's decision not to file the more serious charges may have been influenced by the Casey Anthony trial. Lamar's office charged the Florida mother with first-degree murder for her daughter's death even though the medical examiner couldn't conclusively tell how she died. A jury acquitted Anthony of murder.

"He clearly has learned from the recent prosecutorial missteps on another high profile case in central Florida and kept it appropriate," said Grieco, who is now a defense attorney in private practice.

Eleven defendants were charged with hazing resulting in death, a felony, and misdemeanor offenses that all together could bring nearly six years in prison. Two others face misdemeanor charges.

It was not immediately clear whether those charged were all students or whether they included faculty members or others involved in the road trip.

Their names were being withheld until all of them were arrested, but authorities around the state were starting to take them into custody.Two men — 23-year-old Caleb Jackson and 24-year-old Rikki Wills — were arrested on Wednesday in Leon County. Wills was allowed to leave jail Wednesday night after posting a $15,000 bond.