Prosecutors have charged 13 people in the hazing death of Florida A&M University “Marching 100″ drum major Robert Champion.
Orange County State Attorney Lamar Lawson announced the charges at a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Orlando, where Champion died after being pummeled to death aboard a charter bus outside a hotel in November.
The 22-year-old’s death “is nothing short of an American tragedy,” Lawson told reporters before announcing the charges.
Lawson said the charges include 11 felony hazing charges, which carry a penalty of up to six years in prison, and 20 misdemeanor hazing charges.
The prosecutor indicated more individuals may yet be arrested and asked “others who have facts about Champion’s homicide to come forward and tell the truth.”
Champion’s death exposed a long legacy of hazing within the celebrated marching band. FAMU administrators have halted all of band’s activities until the investigation was complete and launched a task force to look into the “culture of hazing” at the historically black university.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, whose child is a student at FAMU, said his team interviewed four dozen peopel in Tallahassee and spent more than 1,000 hours investigating the case.
“As the parent of a current FAMU student, I know the importance of the work that has been done in this case and how it has impacted the institution,” Demings said.
Hazing that involves bodily harm is a third-degree felony in Florida. The charges filed Wednesday were made possible by the 2005 law passed in the wake of the death of another Florida college student. The law defines hazing as any act that endangers the health or safety of a student for the purpose of admission to a school group.
Lawson said that without the law, he would not have been able to file the charges that carry enhanced penalties when someone is injured or dies after being hazed. No single blow killed Champion, who died after being pummeled to death, Lawson said, thereby preventing him to file more serious murder or manslaughter charges.
“The testimony does not support a charge of murder. We can prove participation in hazing and a death,” Lawson said.