ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - The ringleader of a beating ritual that led to the death of a Florida college marching band member was convicted on Friday of manslaughter and felony hazing, the first case to go to trial in an incident that drew national attention to hazing abuses.
A jury convicted percussionist Dante Martin, 27, for his role in a November 2011 ritual involving the Florida A&M University’s celebrated “Marching 100” band that led to the death of Robert Champion, a 26-year-old drum major.
“Now he has to pay for what he has done. I won’t get my son back,” his mother, Pamela Champion, told reporters. “No one wins here.”
The case forced the university to address a hazing culture in its marching band, which has performed at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and presidential inaugurations. The band was suspended for more than a year and a half, returning to the field in the fall of 2013.
During the trial, witnesses detailed the ritual known as “Crossing Bus C,” in which participants were kicked, punched, whipped and hit with drum mallets while making their way from the front to the back of the percussionists’ travel bus.
A medical examiner found Champion died of hemorrhagic shock from blunt force trauma after running the gauntlet on the darkened charter bus.
Champion died onboard the bus, which was bringing the band to Orlando for a football game between Florida A&M and another historically black university. At halftime, the two schools’ bands competed during popular, jazz-inspired shows.
Prosecutor Jeff Ashton said he hoped the conviction sends a message to anyone thinking of hazing.
“If you do it and something goes wrong, you’re going to be responsible for it,” Ashton told reporters after the jury quickly returned a guilty verdict.
After the verdict, Martin was handcuffed and taken into custody. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 9.
Under Florida guidelines, he faces nine to 22 years in jail, said David Weinstein, a former state prosecutor now in private practice in Miami.
Martin’s attorneys said they plan to seek a mistrial.
Martin, the percussion section president, was the first of 14 band members charged in the incident to go on trial. Nine others received probation and community service in plea deals, and one was sentenced to almost a year in jail.
Three others are scheduled for trial next year.
Reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando and David Adams in Miami; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Chris Reese, David Gregorio, Eric Beech and Mohammad Zargham