A Florida jury found former Florida A&M University marching band member Dante Martin guilty of manslaughter for his role in the fatal hazing of drum major Robert Champion.
As NPR’s Greg Allen reported from Orlando earlier this week, prosecutors said Martin was the ringleader of what they called a dark hazing tradition in which Champion was beaten to death. Martin’s lawyer argued that the tradition of walking through a bus while getting beaten started way before Martin was in the band.
Originally, 15 band members were charged for the role they played in Champion’s death.
“Most of the others have had their cases resolved already,” Greg told All Things Considered. “Several were determined to have had minor roles, and they received probation and community service. Another one pleaded guilty, and he received a year in jail. There are three other band members who are still facing trial. But in his role as president of Bus C, Dante Martin may be the guy who’s on the hot seat here and who’s facing the toughest facts.”
The Orlando Sun-Sentinel reports that a jury agreed with the prosecution. The paper adds:
“The panel listened to three days of testimony and nearly four hours of arguments from State Attorney Jeff Ashton and Martin’s defense team.
“Ashton told jurors that hazing may have been a deeply rooted tradition in the celebrated marching band, but that should not excuse those who beat drum major Robert Champion to death during a ritual on a bus in Orlando nearly three years ago.
” ‘Tradition didn’t kill Robert Champion. Tradition isn’t to blame for Robert Champion’s death,’ he said. ‘You don’t get to break the law because those who came before you did it. That may work when you’re 10, but it doesn’t work when you’re an adult — an adult who has the ability to say, “No … I won’t be part of this barbarous ritual anymore.” ‘ ”
The AP reports the jury also returned a guilty verdict on a felony hazing charge. Martin is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9. The manslaughter charge can carry up to 15 years in prison.