Defendant: FAMU band drum major wanted to be hazed
By KYLE HIGHTOWER and MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida A&M drum major who died after being hazed on a bus asked to go through the ordeal because it was seen as an honor, a defendant in the case said in a deposition released Wednesday
Robert Champion, 26, had asked all season to go through the hazing ritual, known as “crossing over,” defendant Jonathan Boyce said. “It’s a respect thing, you know,” Boyce told detectives. “Well, he was wanting to do it all … all season.”
Champion died last November after enduring a hazing ritual conducted by other band members on a bus outside a hotel in Orlando where FAMU had played its archrival in football. His death revealed a culture of hazing in the famed band, which has performed at Super Bowls and presidential inauguration parades. An autopsy concluded Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body and died from shock caused by severe bleeding.
Champion’s parents have said their son was a vocal opponent of the routine hazing in the band.
In an interview earlier this year, Champion’s father, Robert Sr., said the reason his son was hazed was because of his opposition to it.
Prosecutors in Orlando are releasing more than 1,500 pages of evidence against the 13 people charged in Champion’s death last year. Eleven defendants are charged with a third-degree felony and two are charged with misdemeanors.
One hazing ritual called “the hot seat” involved getting kicked and beaten with drumsticks and bass drum mallets while covered with a blanket on a band bus called, “Bus C,” band member Marc Baron told investigators. Baron isn’t charged and wasn’t on the bus the weekend Champion died.
Band members enduring the hazing also must run a gauntlet to the back of the bus while being hit and kicked in a ritual called “crossing over,” he said.
“You start in the beginning and you go, you try to find your way to the back,” Baron said.
Asked by investigator if it was how a member earns respect, Baron said: “In a certain way respect, but it’s not really respect. It’s just like band credentials.”
Depositions offered clues to the defenses the defendants will use.
Defendant Aaron Golson denied getting on the bus where the hazing took place. He said he got a ride back from the game with a friend.
“I don’t know anything that happened with Robert,” Golson said.
Golson also told detectives that Champion wasn’t into the hazing rituals.
“Man, I’m shock(ed) if that happens,” Golson said when told that Champion chose to get on the bus to be hazed.
Another defendant, Caleb Jackson, at first told detectives that he wasn’t on the bus when Champion was beaten but then changed his story when he was told that hotel video surveillance showed him getting off the bus. At the time of Champion’s death, Jackson was on probation for a felony battery charge.
“I love Robert like a brother, more than ya’ll, any, everybody in this band loves this man like a brother, you know what I’m saying,” Jackson said.
FAMU’s famed Marching 100 band was suspended shortly after the incident, and officials have said it will remain sidelined at least through the 2012-2013 school year.
The school also tried to fire band director Julian White. White’s dismissal was placed on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded, but he insisted that he did nothing wrong and fought for months to get reinstated. He announced his retirement earlier this month.