Prosecutors in Orlando announced that they were charging 12 former members of a university marching band with manslaughter, for their part in the hazing ritual that led to the death of a drum major.
Robert Champion was killed by a savage beating in November 2011, soon after his university, Florida A&M, lost its annual football grudge match away to rivals Bethune-Cookman. The 26-year-old Florida A&M university drum major died, however, at the hands of his own team.
Ten of the band members were charged with felony hazing last year, but prosecutors decided to raise the charges to manslaughter, and to charge two additional defendants. In a brutal initiation ritual, Champion was forced to crawl along the aisle of the team’s bus while being beaten and kicked by fellow students. He collapsed and died of internal bleeding within an hour of the attack. The medical examiner’s report cited “multiple blunt trauma blows to his body.”
Tracy Maxwell, the founder of HazingPrevention.org, said it was rare for hazing perpetrators to be charged with manslaughter. “But it’s difficult to convict someone for hazing, due to the confusion about its definition,” Maxwell told The Independent. “So the courts often have more luck charging perpetrators with some kind of abuse or, in this case, manslaughter. It’s easy to minimise this sort of activity by calling it ‘hazing’, but when people see that this was in fact manslaughter, it sends a strong message to students about their actions and the consequences.”
Hazing is longstanding tradition at US colleges, whereby prospective members of sports teams, fraternity houses and the like are subjected to formal initiation rites, which generally involve excessive drinking and public humiliation. A recent study by the University of Maine found that 54 per cent of the nation’s young people had taken part in the practice, which has reportedly led to at least one death per year since 1970. Hazing is now illegal in 44 states and banned by almost every US university, though it continues unchecked on many campuses.
In December 2012, 22 students from Northern Illinois University were charged with hazing, following the demise of 19-year-old freshman David Bogenberger, who spent the night before his death from alcohol poisoning downing vodka as part of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity’s “parents’ night” hazing ritual.
In October, a lawsuit was filed by the family of Victoria Carter, an East Carolina University student killed in a car accident in 2010. Her parents allege she died because both Carter and the driver of the vehicle had been suffering from sleep deprivation as a result of their Delta Sigma sorority’s “Hell Week” hazing test.