Florida A & M University’s Marching 100 had played at a Super Bowl and before U.S. presidents. But one of the nation’s most-celebrated marching bands had a dark secret: members were occasionally beaten with mallets, fists and drumsticks in a hazing initiation known as “crossing” Bus C.
The trial of four band members is scheduled to start Monday on charges of felony hazing and manslaughter, almost three years after drum major Robert Champion died from being beaten during that ritual. His death shone a spotlight on hazing at FAMU and other colleges, caused the band to be suspended for over a year and contributed to the resignation of FAMU’s president.
Hours after a football game in Orlando in November 2011, band members boarded Bus C parked outside a hotel. They pummeled Champion, 26, and two other band members as they tried to wade their way through a pounding gauntlet of fists, drumsticks and mallets from the front to the back of the bus.
After making it to the back, Champion vomited and complained of trouble breathing. He soon fell unconscious and couldn’t be revived. He died from hemorrhagic shock and his autopsy showed extensive internal bleeding.
Fifteen former band members originally were charged with manslaughter and hazing in the death of Champion, of Decatur, Georgia. All but the four remaining defendants have had their cases settled, and several of them will be called as witnesses to describe what happened on the bus.
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