FAMU hazing death defendant pleads no contest

The first of a dozen people accused of beating a Florida A&M drum major to death as part of a twisted hazing ritual is ready to accept his punishment. Brian Jones of Parrish took a no-contest plea to a charge of third degree felony hazing, in which he neither admits nor denies a role in the death of Robert Champion last November. Because of that particular legal strategy, he is not formally convicted of the crime. The 23 year-old originally plead not guilty. Champion’s family is suing.

The circuit court judge in Orlando agreed to the deal because there was no evidence Jones actually hit or beat Champion. The judge called Jones’ participation “minimal.” Sentencing is set for later this month. The FAMU band beatdown grabbed national headlines when the story broke last year. Tales of how newly-promoted drum majors had to endure brutal physical punishment at the hands of their fellow musicians as a rite of passage electrified the nation. Even more shocking is FAMU’s assertion that Champion was responsible for his own death. Officials cite a document band members are required to sign that warns of “the dangers of participating in hazing either as the hazer or hazee.” The document was supposed to protect the university from liability if a band member was injured or killed.

Champion’s final moments were spent in a bus outside an Orlando hotel where the ritual was administered. The medical examiner reported Champion suffered blunt trauma from numerous blows, and finally died from shock caused by severe internal bleeding. The university says Champion made a conscious decision to be on the bus and accept whatever happened. FAMU’s lawyers even refer to him as a “co-conspirator” in his own death, saying he “agreed, conspired, combined or confederated with others to do unlawful acts, and encouraged, requested or helped cause others to commit such unlawful acts.”

The investigation and exposure of FAMU’s long history of hazing, tolerated by its leaders, forced the sudden retirement of the university president this past July. The band’s director resigned under pressure and the March 100 band itself has been suspended until 2013. Eleven other band members who allegedly were present face felony hazing charges and they will be tried early next year.

Source: Tallahassee.com, “FAMU hazing defendant pleads no contest in Champion case,” Oct. 10, 2012