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Suspects to be Arraigned in Champion Hazing Death

By: Eyewitness News; Julie Montanaro; Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida, Associated Press Email
By: Eyewitness News; Julie Montanaro; Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida, Associated Press Email

UPDATED 6.13.2012 by Julie Montanaro

FAMU Marching 100 members accused in the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion are set to be arraigned in court tomorrow.

The 11 band members charged with felonies in Champion's death are scheduled to appear before a judge in Orlando tomorrow.

Court records show most of them have already entered written pleas of "not guilty." They probably won't be there in person, but their attorneys may be.

The band members are accused of beating Champion to death aboard a bus after the Florida Classic in November 2011.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - May 11, 2012 - Noon -

The resignation of FAMU Band director Julian White is fueling lots of speculation about the future of the Marching 100.

Dr. Julian White, longtime director of the band, resigned Thursday. Eyewitness News has a crew interviewing Dr. White right now about that decision. White was suspended in the wake of the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. So was the band.

On Monday, FAMU trustees are scheduled to meet at 11am to decide whether the Marching 100 will take the field this fall or if that suspension should continue.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - May 10, 2012 - 2pm - -

Florida A&M University will soon decide the fate of its famed Marching 100 band in the wake of a drum major's hazing death.

FAMU President James Ammons is expected to discuss the band at a special meeting of the university board of trustees on either Friday or Monday.

Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges from Robert Champion's death in November. Two others face misdemeanor counts. Ammons suspended the band soon after Champion's death.

Champion died aboard a bus outside an Orlando hotel. His death revealed a culture of hazing within the band.

But according to information the university turned over to the board, three of those charged with Champion's death weren't FAMU students at the time.

University officials now also acknowledge that other band members were not students.

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May 10, 2012 - 11:20am -

FAMU President Ammons sends a memorandum to the FAMU Board of Trustees, updating them on the Champion hazing death case.







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May 10, 2012 --

From Chuck Hobbs, attorney for Dr. Julian White:

Music Department Verification of Student Enrollment:

"It is required that all students present a copy of their current class schedule indicating their enrollment at Florida A&M University, Florida State University or Tallahassee Community College at the beginning of the fall semester in order to receive a band uniform from the Department of Music. Students cannot march without a uniform. It is not under the auspices of the band staff or the Department of Music to make final determinations as to verification of enrollment".

Additional University Controls for Verification of Student Band Enrollment:

"Under previous administrations, additional controls were in place for band student enrollment verification via the Dean of the College of Arts& Sciences and the Registrar's Office. Additionally, student numbers are sent with band rosters for band travel per diem requests first to the Athletics Department. The Athletics Department then sends the roster and travel per diem requests to the University Controller's office as per university policy. When the allotments come back to the Department of Music from the Controller's Office, the band staff trusts that the ability to distribute funds disbursed for use by enrolled students have been verified by those with authority to do so."

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May 9, 2012 --

Three of the thirteen arrests in the FAMU Hazing Death case were not enrolled students with Marching 100 which prompted a statement from FAMU which reads as follows:

A statement from Mrs. Sharon P. Saunders, Florida A&M University's chief communications officer.

“We were recently made aware of the fact that the three individuals were not enrolled. The university clearly has written guidelines that require marching band students to be enrolled at FAMU, FSU or TCC and in a specific band course. According to the Marching “100” Band Handbook, students cannot be issued a uniform unless their class schedule is submitted to the Department of Music. The University is reviewing this situation and ways to ensure that band guidelines are followed.”

May 7, 2012 - Noon -

The final band member charged with a felony in the hazing death of Robert Champion has turned herself in to authorities. 20-year-old LaSherry Codner is one of thirteen members of FAMU's Marching 100 band to be charged in the case.

Codner surrendered Sunday at the Orange County Jail in the Orlando area where the incident took place.

Jail records show Codner posted the $15-thousand dollar bond for her release.

Eleven FAMU band members face third degree felony hazing charges for causing the death of Robert Champion in November.

Two other band members face misdemeanor charges, but the names of those two people haven't been released yet.

Champion died on a charter bus outside an Orlando hotel. His death helped reveal a culture of hazing at FAMU. It's also placed the future of the prestigious Marching 100 Band in jeopardy.

The university has suspended the band's operations.

There's also an ongoing criminal investigation into the band's finances.
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[UPDATE] Orlando, FL (AP) -- May 6, 2012 -- 7:30 p.m.

The last of 11 band members charged in the hazing death of a Florida A&M drum major has turned herself in to authorities.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says 20-year-old Lasherry Codner surrendered Sunday at the Orange County jail.

Jail records showed that Codner posted $15,000 bond and would be released.

Eleven FAMU band members face third-degree felony hazing charges from Robert Champion's death in November. Two others face misdemeanor counts.

Champion died aboard a charter bus outside an Orlando hotel. His death revealed a culture of hazing at the Tallahassee school and has jeopardized the future of its prestigious Marching 100 band.

A criminal investigation of the band's finances continues, as does a probe by the state university system into whether university officials ignored warnings about hazing.
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UPDATED May 6, 2012 at 3:35 p.m.

The final defendant in the FAMU hazing investigation has turned herself in today.

Lasherry Codner is now in custody at the Orange County Jail.

Codner is among those accused of beating FAMU Drum Major Robert Champion to death on board a charter bus after the Florida Classic in November.

According to The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 11 of the 13 defendants are charged with felonies.

FAMU defendants who have turned themselves into local law enforcement

Lasherry Codner, B/F, DOB 6/25/91, Orange County Jail (new today)

Ryan Dean, B/M, DOB 9/18/90, Leon County Jail

Jonathan Boyce, B/M, DOB 5/27/87, Leon County Jail

Aaron Golson, B/M, DOB 6/20/92, Gadsden County Jail

Jessie Baskin, B/M, DOB 10/27/91, Miami-Dade County Jail

Harold Finley, B/M, DOB 4/8/92, Palm Beach County Jail

Bryan Jones, B/M, DOB 10/27/88, Hillsborough County Jail

Benjamin McNamee, B/M, DOB 12/14/90, Miami-Dade County Jail

Shawn Turner, B/M, DOB 4/22/86, Gadsden County Jail

Caleb Jackson, B/M, DOB 09/10/88, Leon County Jail

Rikki Wills, B/M, DOB 04/03/88, Leon County Jail

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UPDATED 5.4.2012 by Julie Montanaro

One of the men arrested in Robert Champion's death was already facing felony hazing charges for an assault on another band member.

Aaron Golson was arrested in December.

He was one of three people accused of beating Marching 100 member Bria Hunter so hard, it cracked her femur.

Hunter told police Golson and other members of a Georgia group called the Red Dawg Order struck her repeatedly with a metal ruler at a Van Buren Street apartment on November 1, 2011.

That incident happened 18 days before Robert Champion's death, but Golson continued to perform with the band.

An attorney for ousted band leader Dr. Julian White says Golson was not among those suspended for the Florida Classic.

"He was still a part of the band. He was not one of the initial three individuals whose names were turned in to Dr. White by Bria Hunter's father in early November. So, he marched that Saturday at the Florida Classic and so he was still in good standing. His name was later derived as law enforcement started to do their investigation," Chuck Hobbs said.

We went to Golson's Tallahassee apartment, but there was no answer.

We have not yet heard back from the public defender representing him. FAMU has not yet responded to our request for a copy of the travel roster for the Classic and the list of names of Marching 100 members suspended beforehand.

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May 4, 2012 - 3:30pm

Ryan Dean, 21, and Jonathan Boyce, 24, were booked into the Leon County Jail today for one count each of Felony Hazing Resulting in a Death. Both have bonded out (15,000.00 bond)

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Hazing Investigation Arrest Update

May 4, 2012

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is in the process of ensuring the defendants in the FAMU hazing investigation turn themselves into law enforcement. Of the 11 defendants charged with felony hazing, 10 have turned themselves into local authorities.

FAMU defendants who have turned themselves into local law enforcement

Ryan Dean, B/M, DOB 9/18/90, Leon County Jail (new today)

Jonathan Boyce, B/M, DOB 5/27/87, Leon County Jail (new today)

Aaron Golson, B/M, DOB 6/20/92, Gadsden County Jail

Jessie Baskin, B/M, DOB 10/27/91, Miami-Dade County Jail, bonded out

Harold Finley, B/M, DOB 4/8/92, Palm Beach County Jail

Bryan Jones, B/M, DOB 10/27/88, Hillsborough County Jail, bonded out

Benjamin McNamee, B/M, DOB 12/14/90, Miami-Dade County Jail, bonded out

Shawn Turner, B/M, DOB 4/22/86, Gadsden County Jail, bonded out

Caleb Jackson, B/M, DOB 09/10/88, Leon County Jail

Rikki Wills, B/M, DOB 04/03/88, Leon County Jail, bonded out.

The last person remaining is in Georgia. FDLE has been in contact her family.

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Defendant in FAMU case now charged in 2 hazings
by Gary Fineout. AP

Tallahassee, FL (AP) -- May 3, 2012 --

One of the defendants charged with hazing a Florida A&M University drum major is already facing charges in another hazing incident.

Aaron Golson, 19, turned himself on Thursday in Gadsden County.

Golson, who is from Georgia, is one of 11 band members charged with felony hazing in connection to the November death of Robert Champion. Two others are going to be charged with misdemeanor charges authorities said.

Golson was one of two band members arrested last December by Tallahassee police with battery and hazing for allegedly hitting Bria Hunter so hard it broke her thigh. A third member was charged at the time with hazing because the incident occurred in his off-campus apartment.

Hunter was beaten about three weeks before Champion died following a hazing ritual on a band bus.

Gov. Rick Scott reacts to the hazing arrests at FAMU, talks about whether the state should settle with the family of Robert Champion and gives his opinion on whether FAMU's marching band, which is currently suspended, should be restored. He also talks about National Prayer Day and the prayer bill he signed.

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Tallahassee, FL -- May 3, 2012

From FDLE:

UPDATE – An additional defendant has turned himself into law enforcement

Defendants who have turned themselves in

Aaron Golson, B/M, DOB, 6/20/92, Gadsden County Jail

Jessie Baskin, B/M, DOB 10/27/91, Miami-Dade County Jail, bonded out

Harold Finley, B/M, DOB 4/8/92, Palm Beach County Jail

Bryan Jones, B/M, DOB 10/27/88, Hillsborough County Jail, bonded out

Benjamin McNamee, B/M, DOB 12/14/90, Miami-Dade County Jail, bonded out

Shawn Turner, B/M, DOB 4/22/86, Gadsden County Jail, bonded out

From yesterday

Caleb Jackson, B/M, DOB 09/10/88, Leon County Jail

Rikki Wills, B.M, DOB 04/03/88, Leon County Jail, bonded out.

The three remaining are out-of-state. One is in Delaware and two are in Georgia.

NOTE: Click on the photos icon above to see the mugshots of those arrested.

Aaron Golson, of Stone Mountain, GA, turned himself in to the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office at approximately 1:21 pm this date on charges of felony hazing that caused the death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion. Golson was processed and released at 2:30 pm after posting a $15,000.00 bond.

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Tallahassee, Florida - May 3, 2012 - Noon -

There are more arrests in the hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion. Two men have turned themselves in one in Tampa and one in Fort Lauderdale. That's in addition to the two already arrested in Tallahassee.

Two men were arrested yesterday and taken to jail. One of them bonded out, but the other will have to remain behind bars. Caleb Jackson spent the night in jail and made his first appearance before a judge this morning. Jackson is facing a felony in the hazing death of Robert Champion. His bond is set at $15,000 for that. But the judge ruled Jackson violated his probation on a previous battery and ordered him to remain in jail, despite a plea from his fiance.

"He's been doing so well. He's become an assistant manager," Jasmine Alexander, Jackson's fiance, said in court. "It's not like he's been doing anything wrong. He's been walking a straight and narrow path ever since he got on probation."

Jackson was on probation for battery after a fight at Tallahassee Community College.

Rikki Wills was arrested in Tallahassee yesterday as well. He was released from jail last night after posting $15,000 bond.

There are 13 people facing charges in Robert Champion's death. 11 of them are facing felonies. Eyewitness News will keep you updated on any more arrests.

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Tallahassee, Florida - May 3, 2012 - 9:39am

Caleb Jackson will remain in jail. The judge ruled that he violated his probation for a previous battery charge and must remain in jail. Jackson's fiance made a tearful plea to the judge, saying that jacks was the sole source of income for their family and he was on the straight and narrow now. The judge said he understood, but that he would have to take it up with the judge.

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Tallahassee, Florida - May 3, 2012 - 8:50am

Hazing suspect Rikki Wills has bonded out of the Leon County Jail on $15,000 bond. Caleb Jackson is scheduled to make his first appearance before a judge in a few minutes.

Thirteen people have been charged in the hazing death of Robert Champion, the drum major for Florida A&M University's "Marching 100" whose death shook the university and led to the suspension of the iconic band.

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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 2, 2012

Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Thirteen people have been charged in the hazing death of Robert Champion, the drum major for Florida A&M University's "Marching 100" whose death shook the university and led to the suspension of the iconic band.

Eleven individuals were each charged with a single count of hazing resulting in death, a third-degree felony, and two counts of hazing, a first-degree misdemeanor, according to information released by the office of State Attorney Lawson Lamar. Two more people were each charged with a single count of hazing.

Lamar's office didn't immediately release the names of those charged, saying they were concerned that doing so might prompt the defendants to flee. One defendant is in custody and authorities across the state and in Georgia were working to arrest the other 12 individuals.

In a nationally televised press conference, Lamar called Champion's death "homicide by hazing" but said he couldn't charge the defendants with murder because the death couldn't be linked to a single act. The maximum prison time for hazing resulting in death is six years.

Lamar also suggested that the investigation was continuing.

"However, let me strongly state that I urge anyone who has facts about this homicide to come forth and tell the whole truth, especially those not charged, because further charges may be forthcoming in the future," he said.

Champion, 26, was beaten to death in a ritual hazing on board a charter bus during a band trip to Orlando in November. His death prompted university officials to suspend activities of the vaunted marching band while the investigation continued. Since then, two faculty members were recently forced out in connection with another, unrelated hazing incident at the historically black university.

In a joint statement, FAMU Board Chairman Solomon Badger and President James Ammons highlighted steps the school has taken since Champion's death to crack down on hazing.

"We are vigorously working to eradicate hazing from FAMU and doing everything within our power to ensure an incident like this never happens again," they said. "Our hearts and our prayers are with the Champion family and the extended FAMU family as we all continue to deal with this tragedy."

Meanwhile, the attorney for dismissed Marching 100 Director Julian White called again for White to be reinstated.

"Most of the decisive actions that the university has taken since Robert Champion's tragic death were largely based on Dr. White's reporting both known and alleged incidents of hazing," attorney Chuck Hobbs said. " ... Dr. White applauds law enforcement for taking the deliberate steps necessary to bring this case to justice, and is relieved that those responsible for Roberts death will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

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Tallahassee, Florida - May 2, 2012

As of 4:00 p.m., Two people have been transported to the Leon County Jail by agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

1-Caleb Jackson

23 years old

Charge: Felony Hazing Resulting in Death

2-Rikki Wills

24 years old

Charge: Felony Hazing Resulting in Death

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Tallahassee, Florida - May 2, 2012 - 3:02pm -

At least two of the people charged in the hazing death of Robert Champion have been arrested and brought to the Leon County Jail.

FDLE agents in unmarked cars got out and escorted the two young men into the booking office.

We are awaiting more information on their names and the charges they are facing.
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BOG Speaks About FAMU Investigation

With the Orange County Sheriff's Office wrapping up its investigating into the death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion, Florida's Board of Governors is hoping it can now speed up its institutional review of Florida A & M.

The review will evaluate the school's policies, practices, procedures and management responsibilities. It may also recommend changes.

"We expect to see a clear review of how Florida A & M University operates and does in our opinion there exist an institutional control that works in the best interest of not only students, but faculty, staff and the general population of Florida A & M University," says Frank Brogan of the Board of Governors.

Brogan stresses it's too early to predict what changes may come out of the investigation. But he says while the FAMU Board of Trustees has decided to keep President Doctor James Amons in his position at this time, that issue will be examined.

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Solomon Badger, Chair FAMU Board of Trustees, and James H. Ammons, President of FAMU:

“We are vigorously working to eradicate hazing from FAMU and doing everything within our power to ensure an incident like this never happens again. Our hearts and our prayers are with the Champion family and the extended FAMU family as we all continue to deal with this tragedy.”

There have been significant steps taken by FAMU in the past five months, with the singular goal to end hazing. They include:

• Indefinite suspension of the FAMU Marching Band and cancellation of 2012 FAMU Summer Band Camp for High School Students. The suspension is still in place and the status of the band is under review.

• Suspension of induction, enrollment, initiation, membership intake and recruitment for all student clubs and organizations until the Fall 2012.

• Amending FAMU anti-hazing regulations to include a 24-hour reporting rule for faculty, staff and students, as well as a provision against retaliation.

• Formation of an independent FAMU Anti-Hazing Committee comprised of noted national experts from relevant fields to provide valuable research and insight to the FAMU Board of Trustees on ways to end and prevent hazing.

• Announcement of Florida A&M University Anti-Hazing Research Initiative, a $50,000 grant for faculty members to conduct research that will study the nature and extent of hazing behaviors among campus organizations and groups.

• Multiple mandatory campus wide Anti-Hazing safety forums that have been attended by thousands of students and faculty, fostered important dialogue and encouraged students to sign an anti-hazing pledge.

• Real-time communication with FAMU constituents and supporters on zero tolerance for hazing and developments.

BAND DIRECTOR’S LAWYER RESPONDS TO
FAMU HAZING CHARGES:
RENEWS REQUEST FOR FULL REINSTATEMENT OF DR. JULIAN WHITE

Charges were filed today against 13 Florida A&M Univeristy (FAMU) students for the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion by Florida’s Ninth Circuit State Attorney in cooperation with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Dr. White continues to grieve the loss of his former student, a music production major whom he had planned to appoint head drum major for next fall’s marching season. Various news reports have indicated that Champion allegedly submitted to an illegal ritual, but was beaten more severely because of his stance against hazing and because of his sexuality.

The student arrests made to date regarding band hazing stemmed from Dr. White’s reporting the incidents to authorities. He also reported two music faculty members as soon as he was made aware of their having hosted hazing session in a home belonging to one of the professors. Although students who have been arrested for hazing incidents have been allowed to return to campus, White remains on paid administrative leave.

STATEMENT FROM CHUCK HOBBS:

"Dr. White continues to pray for the family of Robert Champion and hopes that that the arrests that were announced today will help them to learn more about what happened on the night their son was killed last November and in some small way, provide some sense of relief from the anguish that they have experienced since that time."

"Now that arrests have been made and the criminal investigation into the hazing that led to Robert Champion's death has been concluded, it is our position that President Ammons and/or the Board of Trustees should finally consider our petition to have Dr. White fully reinstated as Director of Bands and Chair of the Music Department at Florida A&M University. We maintain that the evidence we provided following Dr. White's initial termination for alleged incompetence in reporting hazing— is clearly unfounded by the record evidence. Most of the decisive actions that the university has taken since Robert Champion's tragic death were largely based on Dr. White's reporting both known and alleged incidents of hazing.”

“Dr. White worked tirelessly to root out hazing in all forms over the past 22 years as director of bands, and any so-called rituals, including Bus C, were expressly forbidden. Dr. White remains disappointed that barely 48 hours after meeting with band members that Robert Champion was killed in an extreme, horrific and illegal act of bullying. Dr. White applauds law enforcement for taking the deliberate steps necessary to bring this case to justice, and is relieved that those responsible for Robert’s death will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Chuck Hobbs, Attorney for Dr. Julian White

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(CBS News) - May 2, 2012 - 2:22pm -

Thirteen students at Florida A&M University will be charged in connection with the hazing death of marching band member Robert Champion, Jr. CBS News has learned.

The students face misdemeanor and felony hazing charges, but have not been charged with murder or manslaughter. Prosecutors made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.

Twenty-six-year old Robert Champion, Jr. died last November after a severe beating. The cause of death was trauma, caused by excessive bleeding after a hazing ritual aboard a band charter bus involving more than two dozen students.

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May 2, 2012 - 2:10pm -

13 people have been charged with 3rd degree felonies in the Robert Champion hazing case. No names will be released because these people are still at large.

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May 2, 2012 - 2pm -

CBS News - Eleven students at Florida A&M University will be charged in connection with the hazing death of marching band member Robert Champion, Jr. CBS News has learned.

Watch the press conference LIVE

The face misdemeanor and felony hazing charges, but will not be charged with murder or manslaughter. Prosecutors are expected to make an announcement shortly.

Twenty-six-year old Robert Champion, Jr. died last November after a severe beating. The cause of death was trauma, caused by excessive bleeding after a hazing ritual aboard a band charter bus involving more than two dozen students.

The parents of the dead student, Pam and Robert Champion Sr., say any arrests will be five months overdue.

"When someone loses their life because of a crime, they should be punished," Champion Sr. told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

"The most important thing is that the example needs to be set," his mother said. "It needs to be an example that sets the stage of what will not be tolerated."

In the hazing ritual, Champion was allegedly kicked, punched and stomped as he ran from the front of the bus to the back. He collapsed and died on his way to the hospital.

After his death, the school's band director admitted its hazing history stretched back four decades. Just this week, two music professors were fired for participating in band hazing.

Champion's parents have sued the bus company, Fabulous Coach Lines, and plan to sue the school.

"They're going to have to clean the house," Champion's mother said. "They're going to have to step up and do what they know is the right thing to do ... Get rid of the filth that's there. Everything is out in the open, so you can't continue business as usual."

The university has appointed a task force to investigate its hazing culture and suspended all band activities.

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May 2, 2012 - Noon -

Statement from FAMU on Champion investigation:

“Given the legal complexity, which surrounds this matter including on-going investigations and pending litigation, we will not be engaging in any interviews at this time. Upon further administrative and legal review of any and all documents publicly released or shared, Florida A&M University will move with all deliberate speed to initiate proceedings against those involved as appropriate and to the fullest extent lawfully possible.”

Avery McKnight
Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - May 2, 2012 - 10:45am -

Experts say that when prosecutors announce criminal charges Wednesday in the hazing death of a Florida A&M University band member, they will embark on a legal chess game involving multiple defendants who require different approaches for winning convictions.

Prosecutors have prepared at least five separate cases against the suspects who contributed to 26-year-old Robert Champion's death aboard a chartered bus parked outside an Orlando hotel last November.

Detectives say Champion was hazed by other band members following a performance against a rival school. Witnesses told emergency dispatchers Champion was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.

The medical examiner's office in Orlando ruled that Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him.

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Attorney: Family of FAMU hazing victim 'thankful'

Atlanta, GA (AP) -- May 1, 2012 --

The attorney for the family of a Florida A&M University band member who died from a hazing incident last fall said Robert Champion's parents are "thankful" that authorities plan to file charges in the case.

Christopher Chestnut told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the charges are "a long time in coming." Authorities said at least five people will face charges in Champion's November 2011 death aboard a bus after a performance in Orlando, Fla.

The charges are expected to be announced Wednesday afternoon.

Chestnut said Champion's family, which lives in Decatur, Ga., is "distraught" they weren't given enough notice to attend the announcement. He said they found out about the pending charges from the media, not Florida authorities.

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Orlando, Florida - May 1, 2012 - 3:23pm -

The Ninth Circuit State Attorney has completed their review of law enforcement’s investigation in the death of Robert Champion. Together with the Orange County Sheriff, the Ninth Circuit State Attorney will host a press conference to share their findings on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 2 pm.

Stay with WCTV for much more on this story.


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