State Attorney Jeff Ashton wanted to send a harsh message Friday during the sentencing hearing of three ex-FAMU Marching Band members convicted in the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.
But Circuit Judge Renee A. Roche, in determining their sentences, had other considerations:
First, she said, Champion willingly participated in the ritual that ended his life that November evening in 2011.
Second, the young men convicted of manslaughter and hazing in April will have to live with felony records for the rest of their lives.
Finally, Roche said, it was important to balance their sentences against the other nine former FAMU band members charged in the case.
Most were given probation.
At the end of the day Friday, so were Aaron Golson, Benjamin McNamee and Darryl Cearnel. All received 10 years probation.
“The court recognizes that perhaps Mr. Champion had thoughts or philosophical objections or reservations about this conduct, but there was no evidence of that presented in this case,” Roche said prior to handing down the sentences.
“To the contrary, the evidence was that he went to the bus on his own, that he responded affirmatively when he was asked if he was sure repeatedly, and there was no external pressure for him to participate.”
Ashton asked for the minimum sentence, nine and a half years in prison. After the hearing, he would not comment.
Champion, 26, was killed after participating in a ritual known as Crossing Bus C, in which band members hit, kicked and punched him as he made his way down the aisle of a parked charter bus.
Champion’s parents have challenged whether their son voluntarily boarded the bus after performing in the Florida Classic game between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University.
“There is no real documented proof,” Champion’s mother, Pam, testified in court Friday. “What you’ve heard has been said over and over and over again by the people who killed him. Check your source.”