State to rest case against 3 charged in FAMU hazing death
Apr. 22, 2015
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors are close to wrapping up their case against three former band members charged with manslaughter and hazing in the death of a Florida A&M University drum major.
State attorney Jeff Ashton told Judge Renee Roche Wednesday that his final witness Thursday morning will be the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on 26-year-old Robert Champion. Champion, of Decatur, Georgia, collapsed and died following a brutal hazing ritual aboard a parked bus after a football game in November 2011.
Ashton then expects to rest his case against Benjamin McNamee, Darryl Cearnel and Aaron Golson, who are the final three defendants charged in Champion's death. They are being tried together for manslaughter and felony hazing. If convicted, they face 15 years in prison. Testimony began on Tuesday.
Earlier Wednesday former band member April Tarpley testified that she recalled seeing both McNamee and Cearnel strike Champion at different times hitting him while he was going through a ritual known as "Crossing Bus C," which included him being punched, kicked, and hit with band instruments.
Tarpley said that after the Florida Classic football game the night of Nov. 19, 2011, she became aware that some band members were going to "cross Bus C" and was told to remain on the bus by Cearnel and Dante Martin, who was "the president of Bus C."
Later, she said, while helping watch the front of the bus to make sure only appropriate people entered, she saw McNamee hitting Champion during what was known as the "hot seat" portion of the crossing.
Tarpley said McNamee was "swinging from the (luggage) rail ... swinging and hitting."
She also testified that she saw Cearnel doing what is known as "prepping" Champion, or slapping Champion's bare chest with his hands.
Asked why she had "crossed Bus C" months before, Tarpley echoed what Ashton said during his opening statement: FAMU band members willingly chose to participate in the violent ritual to garner respect.
"Just for respect," Tarpley said. "I wasn't forced to do it."
Later in the day former head drum major Jonathan Boyce described witnessing Cearnel holding a strap, and McNamee as doing "arm punches" on Champion when Boyce arrived on the bus to try to help end the beating on Champion by pulling him to back of the bus faster.
Boyce said though it was he who conveyed a message from Martin to Champion and Keon Hollis that a chance to cross Bus C would be available that night, he had previously discouraged "my two rookie drum majors" from participating in it.
Boyce also described seeing Champion pass out minutes after "panicking" as he complained of not being able to breathe or see.
"In the midst of him panicking and trying to talk to us, he passed out," Boyce said.
Another former drum major, Shawn Turner, said he couldn't remember seeing Cearnel on the bus, but did say he saw him perform CPR on Champion after he collapsed.
Also through testimony by Boyce, Turner and fellow former band member Harold Finley, Ashton introduced a document that all FAMU band members sign acknowledging that they knew hazing was illegal.
When Boyce was asked by Aston why he decided to cross Bus C in 2007, Boyce expressed some regret about it.
"It was something stupid," Boyce said. "Now that we're older...it wasn't worth the pain and agony. It was just to show camaraderie...It was just a tradition that kept going on and on. Tradition."
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower