Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Defendant: Florida A&M Student Wanted To Be Hazed


Hundreds of pages of evidence were released today in the hazing death of a Florida A&M band major. Last November, Robert Champion was beaten to death on a bus after a football game. Thirteen people have been charged in the case.

NPR's Kathy Lohr reports the documents released today provide an unsettling look at the hazing ritual that took place that night.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Head drum major Jonathan Boyce says Champion had asked to go through the hazing ritual all year. It's called crossing over, or crossing Bus C. Band members kick, punch and beat students with drum sticks and other objects as they cross from the front to the back of the bus. Boyce says the beating was already taking place when he arrived at the scene, and he says he climbed over bus seats to help Champion.

JONATHAN BOYCE: So I grab him to try to keep everybody off of him. I grab him, and I'm pulling him. And I'm pulling - and so I see people kicking him. So I stop them from kicking him, and I put my body around his body...

LOHR: Boyce called the hazing a respect thing. Another defendant, Caleb Jackson, first told investigators that he was not on the bus that night.

CALEB JACKSON: Nobody would beat anybody that - we're in the band together, you know what I'm saying? It's something - but it's something that I can't help, you know what I'm saying? Because I'm not in the position. I'm not in the power.

LOHR: After detectives told him about video surveillance footage, Jackson eventually changed his story, and described the beating. Another defendant, Darryl Cearnel, said he approached the bus after the beating. Band members told him that Champion couldn't breathe. Cearnel says he searched for a pulse and tried to revive Champion, who had started to vomit.

DARRYL CEARNEL: I took off the shirt that I had on. I wiped his mouth out. And then, I waited there, and that's when the officer came on the bus.

LOHR: The autopsy report shows Champion died from bleeding due to blunt force trauma; that he had extensive, widespread contusions over his chest, right shoulder, arms and back. The band members also describe another hazing tradition known as the hot seat, where students cover themselves with a blanket and then submit to being beaten.

At a news conference in Atlanta today, Robert Champion's mother, Pam, says she doesn't believe the band members' stories that her son was a willing participant in the hazing. She says he opposed it.

PAM CHAMPION: My thought is, is that he was murdered on that bus. And no one signs up for that.

LOHR: Pam Champion says what happened to her son was not hazing, but a brutal beating. She also called it a group plot that no one would admit to being part of.

CHAMPION: And it wasn't as if nobody didn't know who was there. It had to be you know who's on that bus, because nobody yelled outside that bus and say: Hey, we've been - to do something. You all come on.

LOHR: Band members were not interviewed by the police immediately on the scene, and the family says they had time to concoct a story. Their attorney, Christopher Chestnut, says the documents show the culture of hazing is pervasive at Florida A&M.

CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT: Whether he voluntarily got on or not, what we do know is that anyone in that band who wanted any leadership position, or wanted any future in the band, had their back up against the wall if they went against hazing.

LOHR: Robert Champion was to become the head drum major for the Florida A&M Marching 100 Band.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.