Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO — A judge Friday set a June trial date for the remaining six defendants charged in the hazing death of a former Florida A&M drum major.
Judge Renee Roche put the case on the docket for the trial period that begins June 9 for the former FAMU band members facing manslaughter and hazing charges in Robert Champion’s November 2011 death after a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.
Champion — originally from Decatur — collapsed and died after prosecutors said he walked down the aisle of a bus as other band members beat him with fists and instruments.
Champion’s parents were present Friday and said they would be back for trial. Recently they have chosen to listen in via phone but said they look forward to being there and seeing the case resolved.
“We’ve been going through this situation for over two years now. And it’s still going on, and we’re just looking for closure,” Robert Champion Sr. said after the hearing. “To hear again that they gonna keep putting it off, keep putting it off — we think they should know enough now to bring it to an end and closure, and let justice be done.”
Fifteen former band members were charged with manslaughter and hazing in Champion’s death. Seven have been sentenced to combinations of probation and community service. Two other defendants — Caleb Jackson, 25, and Jessie Baskin, 22 — have both pleaded no contest to manslaughter and are awaiting sentencing.
The defendants awaiting trial are Aaron Golson, 21; Benjamin McNamee, 23; Dante Martin, 26; Darryl Cearnel, 26; Henry Nesbitt, 27; and Jarrod Deas, 25.
State attorney Jeff Ashton told Judge Roche that he “would be surprised” if Deas and Nesbitt didn’t have their cases “worked out” before June.
Neither is considered to have been a heavy participant in Champion’s hazing. Deas was initially charged only with misdemeanor hazing of another band member. But those charges were upgraded to manslaughter and hazing of Champion after witnesses placed Deas on the bus during that incident as well.
Nesbitt made the 911 call after Champion collapsed.
Ashton said he thought the prosecution, which would try the defendants together, could make their case as short as a week. An attorney for McNamee estimated it may take at least two weeks because of the numerous witnesses involved.
Since the death, FAMU has made changes to end what’s been called a culture of hazing. Champion’s death led to the departure of the band’s longtime director, the abrupt resignation of former FAMU president James Ammons and a yearlong suspension of the band that was lifted in 2013.
Pam Champion said she hopes the trial and sentences for those charged in her son’s death help to end hazing incidents nationwide and that people get the message about the word “hazing.”
“It’s not hazing at all,” she said. “It’s abuse. Even murder. It’s the most vicious thing that people can inflict on someone. You can’t say ‘Well, they’re students.’ There’s a line that was crossed.”