ORLANDO, Fla. – A Florida prosecutor on Friday cast a former Florida A&M University band member as the orchestrator of the 2011 beating death of a drum major who, as part of a hazing ritual, pushed his way through a band bus while his fellow musicians kicked him and pummeled him with their fists and drumsticks.
State attorney Jeff Ashton said in closing arguments Friday that 27-year-old Dante Martin should be found guilty because the beating of 26-year-old Robert Champion aboard the parked bus in Orlando was "the classic definition of hazing."
Later, Martin's defense attorney, Richard Escobar, attacked the Florida hazing statute itself, arguing that what happened fell under the exception to the law which protects athletic events or competitions. He also said that Martin and other band members were simply following a long-followed tradition of the band's "so-called giants" that had existed for years.
"You can't take it in isolation and act like it was just any other band," Escobar said. "Brutal as it was, foolish as it was...it was competitive."
Champion of Decatur, Georgia, died following the ritual — known as "crossing Bus C."
Prosecutors called eight witnesses during their case, including former band members who identified Martin as the president of Bus C and the organizer of the ritual that night after a football game.
The defense presented no witnesses and Martin declined to testify.
A state medical examiner testified Thursday that Champion died from massive blood loss within his own body through severe bruising. Half of his blood supply was lost into bruises, where it pooled in the damaged tissue, Dr. Sara Irrgang said.
Champion initially said he was fine after the beating. Shortly afterward, he vomited and collapsed and died in a parking lot.
Martin faces 15 years if found guilty of manslaughter and felony hazing of Champion, and misdemeanor hazing of two other band members who went through the ritual the same night.
Ashton called the evidence "overwhelming" and said that it was clear through testimony that band members were looking for a measure of respect and acceptance by crossing Bus C. However, he challenged the defense assertion that tradition was to blame.
"Tradition didn't kill Robert Champion," Ashton said. "Tradition isn't to blame. Tradition is not an excuse...It's not a defense to those that got caught."
Others involved in the hazing have escaped charges or pleaded guilty to lesser ones.
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