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Former Band Member Convicted Of Manslaughter In Hazing Death


A jury in Orlando, Florida, has convicted a former member of Florida A&M University's marching band of manslaughter and felony hazing. Prosecutors said 27-year-old Dante Martin helped organize the hazing that took drum major Robert Champion's life. The convictions carry a possible sentence of 15 years in prison. NPR's Greg Allen has been following the case and joins us now. And, Greg, if you could remind us of the background here, what happened and when?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, this was in November of 2011, Audie, and it was the last away game of the season for Florida A&M's football team. The marching band was there, of course. And afterwards, some band members gathered on a C bus - this was a bus used by members of the percussion section. There was a ritual, a tradition, that they had there that was called crossing C bus, where some members of the band would try to push their way from the front of the bus to the back of the bus through a whole crowd of band members who would strike them with fists, would kick them, hit them with mallets - drum mallets - and straps.

Robert Champion decided on his own volition to go through and do that on that day and when he got to the back of the bus, he collapsed eventually. Paramedics came. They were unable to revive him and he died of internal bleeding.

CORNISH: And prosecutors say Dante Martin was the person in charge. But what exactly does that mean?

ALLEN: Well, he was something - a position called the president of C bus. He was a percussionist in the section. And there's a lot of camaraderie in the section. And he had a leadership position within that. And he was the person who gave some direction to people on the bus about what they can do and what they shouldn't do to the members who went through. That's what prosecutors said. His defense was that he said that he was - didn't have control of what happened in the C bus, but, certainly, the jury didn't agree with that.

CORNISH: Greg, some of the other defendants pleaded guilty. Why did Dante Martin decide to fight the charges?

ALLEN: Well, he and his lawyers claimed he was not guilty. They said that this really was not hazing. They tried to keep the whole hazing concept out of the trial, saying that Florida's felony hazing law was too vague and should not apply here.

Instead of a hazing, they this was more like an athletic competition that people would go try to make their way from the front of the bus to the back of the bus to gain respect of others. They did it voluntarily and no one disputed the fact that Robert Champion did do it on his own volition to cross C bus. They tried to make that argument, but it didn't fly with the jury. They came back after just a few hours and convicted him of manslaughter and felony hazing.

CORNISH: What's the next step in this case?

ALLEN: Well, we'll have a sentencing. Now, these are serious charges here and he can face up to 15 years in prison. So we'll see what happens for Dante Martin. There are three other defendants now who are awaiting trial. They were kind of separated themselves from Dante Martin, and now they'll be looking at tough sentences. It'll be interesting to see, now, if they decide to come to plea deals with the prosecutors or if they decide to go to trial.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Allen. Greg, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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