October 27, 2014 / 3:55 PM / 4 years ago

Florida hazing trial begins in college marching band death

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - Three years after the beating death of a Florida college band member brought national attention to its hazing rituals, the alleged ringleader of the abuse went on trial on Monday for manslaughter.

Dante Martin, 27, a former member of the Florida A&M University’s celebrated “Marching 100” band, faces hazing charges for his role in the death of Robert Champion, a band drum major.

Wearing a dark suit, Martin kept his eyes down and jotted in a legal pad as jury selection began in an Orlando courtroom. About a dozen potential jurors recalled their own hazing experiences in band, Greek organizations or on sports teams.

Judge Renee Roche expected the trial to last one week.

Champion, 26, died in November 2011 onboard a charter bus that brought the band to Orlando for an annual football game featuring two historically black universities. At halftime, their bands competed during popular, jazz-inspired shows.

Fourteen band members have faced charges for punching, kicking and striking Champion during a hazing ritual known as “Crossing Bus C.” Most received probation and community service in plea deals. Charges were dismissed against a fifteenth person.

Martin’s lawyers unsuccessfully sought dismissal of the manslaughter charge, court records show.

Champion’s death was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, who found he died of hemorrhagic shock resulting from blunt force trauma after running through a gauntlet of band members beating him on the darkened bus.

Champion had long refused to engage in the band’s hazing rituals, but ultimately decided to participate in what witnesses called an attempt to gain respect.

The case forced the university to address a deeply ingrained hazing culture in its marching band. The school suspended the band for a year and a half, allowing the band to return to the field in the fall of 2013.

Editing by Letitia Stein, Doina Chiacu

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