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Florida College Band Member Gets 4 Years In Hazing Death

Sep 8, 2015
Originally published on September 8, 2015 8:45 am

A former Florida A&M University band member was sentenced Friday to four years in prison for his role in a drum major's hazing death.

Judge Marc Lubet announced the sentence for 26-year-old Caleb Jackson, who pleaded no contest to manslaughter and hazing in April 2013 for his part in the death of Robert Champion, of Decatur, Georgia.

In a plea agreement, the prosecution and the defense had settled on a three-year prison term for Jackson. The statute called for a minimum 10-year sentence and a maximum of 35 years.

Jackson will get credit for more than two years he's already served. With his arrest in Champion's case, a judge found that Jackson violated probation and sentenced him to four years in an unrelated battery case.

The judge said he chose to add an additional year so that Jackson would have serve time specific to Champion's death.

"I'm not sure why this defendant should be treated any differently than any other defendant in this case," Lubet said.

Lubet also said that he chose not to give Jackson a more lengthy prison term because he said evidence showed that Champion was a willing participant in the incident.

Champion's parents, Robert Sr. and Pam Champion, both testified Friday and expressed disappointment with the outcome of the prosecutions over the past four years, which they said didn't collectively send a clear message to end hazing.

"Yes, Mr. Jackson, you killed my son," she said looking at Jackson. "You will never get out from under the fact that you killed my son."

Fifteen former band members were charged in Champion's death. Purported ringleader Dante Martin was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in January. Jessie Baskin served just shy of a year in county jail after entering a no-contest plea to manslaughter. Most of the others were sentenced to community service and probation.

Jackson's sentencing now ends all prosecution in the case.

Champion collapsed and died in November 2011 after being pummeled by other members of FAMU's famed Marching 100 band with fists and instruments during a brutal ritual known as "crossing Bus C" while aboard a parked bus after a football game.

The incident exposed a culture of hazing within the band, which was suspended for more than a year. It also led to the resignation of the former longtime band director Julian White and contributed to the resignation of university president James Ammons in 2012.

That same year, a report from the Florida Board of Governors inspector general's office concluded that the university lacked internal controls to prevent or detect hazing. It cited a lack of communication among top university officials, the police department and the office responsible for disciplining students.