Robert Champion Jr. Hub

Robert Champion's Killers Still Walk Free, Though Maybe Not For Long

Imgres-3The Robert Champion case is coming along. According to the Orlando Sentinel, police will send prosecutors their report on Champion's murder very soon. How soon? No one's talking about that.

What they are talking about is the immense difficulty of everything that will come later. Robert Champion, you'll recall, was the 26-year-old gay drum major at Florida A&M who was beaten to death last November in a savage band hazing on a chartered bus. From the Sentinel:

... legal experts and former prosecutors said the case will be a "nightmare" to sort out because of all of the potential suspects — perhaps 20 or more — who either took part or might have encouraged the brutal beating Champion suffered.

... The state ... will need to prove who did what aboard the bus that night — using witnesses who are part of a tight-knit group and many of whom probably participated in the hazing themselves.

Several sources interviewed for the Sentinel story imply, though don't outright say, that detectives' jobs have been made more difficult by some kind of confederacy among the guilty parties -- a group which inevitably includes a great many, if not all, of the people who were present during the attack. From the Sentinel:

Key among [State Attorney Lawson] Lamar's decisions will be whether to charge everyone who played a role — directly or indirectly — or only those who led the hazing or dealt the most vicious blows, said several law professors and current and former prosecutors.

Even students who yelled at Champion during the beatings or encouraged the attack could be charged with felony hazing, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. Or they could face even more serious charges, including second-degree murder or manslaughter.

As of this writing, no one at all has been arrested in the Champion case -- even though there's no doubt about how Champion was killed, where he was killed, why he was killed, or who was present for the killing. 

Three Months On, Robert Champion's Killers Walk Free

On Nov. 19th, gay drum major Robert Champion of Florida A&M University died from injuries sustained during what appears to have been a violent hazing ritual conducted as part of Champion's entrance into FAMU's famed marhcing band, the Marching 100. The ritual, it emerged, would have included something called "The Gauntlet of Fists." Champion collapsed on the band's tour bus; only a subsequent autopsy revealed he'd been beaten to death.

From the AP:

Witnesses have told Champion's parents the 26-year-old drum major may have been targeted for severe hazing because of his opposition to the marching band's culture of hazing, said [Chris] Chestnut, the lawyer for the suburban Atlanta family. Other witnesses have told them Champion being gay, and the fact that he was a candidate for chief drum major, also may have played roles, Chestnut said.

Three months later, Champion's parents are still waiting for arrests to be made. The AP offers possible reasons for the case's slow progress. The distance between the location of the crime (Orlando) and the location of FAMU (Tallahassee); the pressure of international scrutiny; the large number of witnesses and the time elapsed between the murder and its discovery as such:

Half a dozen detectives have interviewed or are in the process of interviewing 30 to 35 witnesses, said Ginette Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

"With this amount of people ... three months really isn't a lot of time with an active caseload that these detectives are carrying," Rodriguez said. "We're going to send this over to the state, and of course, they're going to want to make sure that they're presenting a good case. That is basically all it is."

Incredibly, the ongoing investigation has apparently had little effect on the Marching 100's culture of sadism. Four FAMU students were arrested last month for "paddling and punching" band pledges. The month before that, three were arrested for beating a female pledge with sufficient vigor to break her thigh bone.

From the AP:

"It's very disheartening, discouraging and disappointing to see arrests made for hazing with [comparably] minor injuries but none for a murder," Chestnut said.

Was a Florida A&M Student Robert Champion Jr's Hazing Death an Anti-Gay Hate Crime?

An investigation into the hazing death of Robert Champion, Jr., a Florida A&M marching band member last November, has taken a new turn after the student's parents reveal that the 26-year-old student was gay, CBS News reports:

2_championOn Nov. 19, Champion was found unresponsive aboard a band bus after the school's biggest game of the year. Police ruled the death a homicide from hazing. About 30 students were on the bus at the time, but no one has been charged, and the Champions have started their own investigation into how their son died.

"The truth will come out as to what happened," says the young man's mother. "I will find out how my son got there, because I know that he would not have willingly, knowingly just walked into that."

Champion family attorney Chris Chestnut says he has now spoken to "a lot" of the people who were there on the day, more than 10 potential witnesses. Some of the students tell Chestnut they were also hazed that night, but none as severely as Champion. They say he was singled out, possibly because he was both a vocal opponent of hazing and a band disciplinarian, and gay.

"It may or may not have been" his sexual orientation which saw him singled out, says Chestnut, allowing only that it is a "possibility."

Champion's mother says her son "wasn't defined by his sexual orientation. He was just defined as being a child going to school, trying to get an education."

Champion's parents are planning to sue Florida A&M as well as the bus company involved.

CNN reports that the Champion family is planning to hold a news conference this morning, and also reports on the alleged hazing ritual:

Some band members have said Champion died after taking part in a rite of passage called "crossing Bus C." One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that students "walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members, and you get beaten until you get to the back." The medical examiner's office ruled his death a homicide and said Champion "collapsed and died within an hour of a hazing incident during which he suffered multiple blunt trauma blows to his body." An autopsy conducted after his death found "extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back," as well as "evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat," which is the fatty tissue directly under a person's skin.

Watch the CBS News report on Champion's death, AFTER THE JUMP...

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