FAMU Hazing Death: Parents Claim Cover-Up
(LEON COUNTY, Fla.) -- The parents of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, who died from a hazing attack, alleged Thursday that there was a "calculated conspiracy" to cover up their son's death.
The accusation follows Florida State Attorney Lawson Lamar's announcement Wednesday of charges brought against 13 individuals in connection with Champion's death in November 2011.
Champion, 26, was a member of the college's famed "Marching 100" band when he collapsed and died Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after a football game.
The death was ruled a homicide, and Lamar said Champion's torso was covered with bruises that he said were inflicted during a brutal hazing ritual that contributed to his death.
"It did not take five months to figure out who murdered Robert Champion. This is not a murder mystery," Champion family attorney Christopher Chestnut said at a news conference today in Atlanta. "There is no excuse for the lack of accountability."
"We have learned that there was a calculated conspiracy to cover up Robert Champion's murder," he said. "We have heard that alumni were communicating with students on that bus, telling them how to respond, what to say, what not to say in order to ensure that no one would be arrested and charged for murder. That is simply inexcusable."
Chestnut said he has statements from students who revealed these communications. He would not say how many statements he has, but said that he suspects several of the statements came from the same 13 people who have been charged in the hazing.
Eleven of the 13 individuals were charged with hazing resulting in death, a third-degree felony, as well as two counts of misdemeanor hazing. The other two people were charged with one count each of misdemeanor hazing. The maximum sentence for hazing resulting in death is six years.
The state attorney said on Wednesday that there was not enough evidence for murder charges.
"Obviously, someone should be charged with murder," Chestnut said. "The most severe sentence is six years. Robert Champion has a life sentence."
Chestnut said he understood that there is currently not enough evidence for murder charges, but said this was because law enforcement had "botched" the investigation.
He said the case was compromised when authorities let the students on the bus go back to school and that the physical evidence was tainted when the bus was sent back to the company without collecting sufficient evidence.
Chestnut said the Champion family "absolutely, unequivocally" will be suing FAMU. "Robert Champion did not die. He did not pass peacefully away at night," Chestnut said. "He died after being beaten to death. He was murdered. This is a murder case."
So far, three of the 13 individuals have been arrested. Caleb Jackson, 23, and Rikki Willis, 24, were both charged with felony hazing and taken to Leon County Jail. Bryan Jone, 23, turned himself in and was charged with felony hazing in Hillsborough, Fla., but was released on a $15,000 bond.
Some band members have said that Champion died after participating in a rite of passage called "crossing bus C," a ritual in which new band members are beaten as they walk from the back to the front of the bus.
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