ORLANDO, FLA.: A jury on Friday found a former member of Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 band guilty of manslaughter in the fatal hazing of drum major Robert Champion.
Dante Martin, who faces up to 22 years in prison, showed no emotion as Circuit Judge Renee Roche read the verdict. Martin, 27, also was found guilty of felony hazing and two misdemeanor counts of hazing involving two other band members.
The panel listened to three days of testimony and nearly four hours of arguments from State Attorney Jeff Ashton and Martin’s defense team.
Ashton told jurors that hazing may have been a deeply rooted tradition in the celebrated marching band, but that should not excuse those who beat Champion to death during a ritual on a bus in Orlando nearly three years ago.
“Tradition didn’t kill Robert Champion. Tradition isn’t to blame for Robert Champion’s death,” he said. “You don’t get to break the law because those who came before you did it. That may work when you’re 10, but it doesn’t work when you’re an adult — an adult who has the ability to say, ‘No … I won’t be part of this barbarous ritual anymore.”
Defense attorney Richard Escobar countered that Champion, a talented musician who had been an FAMU student for seven years, already held leadership positions in the Marching 100 when he voluntarily participated in the ritual known as “crossing bus C” that led to his death Nov. 19, 2011.
Champion was struck more than 100 times as he ran from the front of the bus to the back through fellow band members.
Escobar argued that the crossing on the bus was akin to a competition and not a hazing. He argued the ritual was an exercise that had been in place for generations, created by those who helped make the band great.
“Brutal as it was, senseless as it was … it was a competition,” he said.
Martin did not testify during the trial. In addition to manslaughter in Champion’s death, Martin was charged with misdemeanors in the alleged hazings of Keon Hollis and Lissette Sanchez of Orlando, who were not injured during their hazings on the bus.
Champion collapsed after the ritual, which occurred on a bus parked outside the Rosen Plaza hotel in Orlando following the Florida Classic game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University.
An assistant medical examiner testified that he died of “hemorrhagic shock” as a result of the beating.
Among those assembled for arguments were Champion’s parents, Pam and Robert.