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13 charged in FAMU hazing death of Robert Champion

5:51 PM, May 2, 2012   |    comments
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Robert Champion

 

Orlando, Florida -- After more than five months, a thousand man hours, 27 law enforcement officers involved in conducting 48 interviews, the charges announced Wednesday were what the state attorney's office called the best case they could make. 

And they're what Robert Champion's family called inadequate.

Flanked by prosecutors and law enforcement, Orange County's State Attorney Lawson Lamar said the death of Robert Champion "is nothing short of an American tragedy."

Champion, 26 years old, was part of FAMU's elite Marching 100 band. He collapsed and died after a hazing incident aboard the group's charter bus outside an Orlando hotel in November.

State Attorney Lamar called the investigation complicated.

"His death is not linked to one sole strike, but is attributed to multiple blows," he said.

Prosecutors say 11 of the 13 charged face a 3rd degree felony under Florida's new anti-hazing law, passed by Florida lawmakers last year.

Two face misdemeanor charges.

"Their son is dead. He was beaten to death on a bus. That constitutes murder," said Chris Chestnut, attorney for Champion's parents.

Chestnut says the Champions, who live out of state, were unable to attend on short notice. With no murder or manslaughter charges filed, Chestnut said the Champion family feels prosecutors are sending the wrong message.

"Five months later, [and a] third degree felony? The family's very disappointed."

Officials declined to release the names of those charged, since most had not yet been taken into custody and might be considered a flight risk if they were alerted beforehand.

"Currently there are teams of FDLE and local sheriff's offices around the state looking for the individuals that are charged today," said the FDLE's Joyce Dawley.

"Once all of the targeted or charged individuals are arrested their names will be released to the media," said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

The Champions believe their son was singled out, because he was an outspoken critic of the marching band's hazing rituals.

They hoped a stronger charge would send a stronger message. But State Attorney Lamar said this was their best shot at gaining justice for Robert.

"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," said Lamar.

Under the felony hazing statute a defendant who had no previous criminal record faces a maximum of up to six years in prison.

There had been 30 people aboard the bus that day. Only 13 have been charged thus far.

Prosecutors say there is a possibility more arrests could be forthcoming. 

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