A former member of Florida A&M University (FAMU)’s marching band was sentenced to 51 weeks in jail on Friday for his involvement in a hazing incident, resulting in the death of a fellow member. Jessie Baskin, 22, will also face five years of probation and 300 hours of community service. State attorney Jeff Ashton had asked for a much stiffer sentence.
The case originates with the death of 26-year old Robert Champion, a drum major in the school’s band in November 2011. Champion died during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside a Orlando hotel. Authorities say the deceased collapsed after band members hit him with fists and instruments. Fourteen other former band members were charged with manslaughter and hazing in the Champion death as well. Seven have received sentences which include probation and community service. Only one other defendant, 25-year-old Caleb Jackson, has pleaded no contest to manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing. Five of the accused are still awaiting trial, and one was acquitted, so far.
Prior to sentencing by Judge Marc Lubet, Baskin read a statement to the court, while facing the Champion’s parents, Pam and Robert Sr; “…I apologize for how this has affected you. I’m not over it. It has affected me too….We did not intend for this to happen.”
Lubet expressed belief in Baskin’s genuine remorse. He expressed his hope that the year in jail will illustrate that hazing will not be tolerated. However, in the end the judge opted against the stiffer sentence in light of the former band member’s remorse, and belief that it would ruin Baskin’s life. According to the Orlando Sentinel, a conviction could have resulted in the maximum term of 15 years in jail for manslaughter. The prosecution had previously requested that the court sentence Baskin to nine years in jail for the defendant’s involvement. However Baskin attorney, Christopher Smith, offered specific reasons for a lighter sentence; Baskin’s age at the time made it difficult to appreciate the severity of the actions, along with Champion being a willing participant of the FAMU band hazing ritual.
The ritual in question is referred to as “Crossing Bus C.” Champion ran a sort of gauntlet from the front of front of the bus to the back, while other members beat him. According to Ashton, Baskin was the most enthusiastic of the members doing the hazing. According to witness testimony, Baskin actively kicked Champion during the event.
Pam Champion, who has attended other sentencing hearings, told Baskin that he “did wrong,” and that she hoped he will use better judgment in the future. Though disappointed with what she saw as insufficient punishment, she claimed to harbor no hatred, and planned to continue building an anti-hazing foundation started in her son’s name.
The incident involving the FAMU band is hardly the only such case to make news. The United States has long had to deal with abuse of inductees to fraternities and other organizations by senior members. During the trial, Lubet recalled friends’ injuries during such rituals while a student at the University of Florida at Gainesville. A student at State University of New York (SUNY) is currently suing the school over a fraternity-related incident. The family of a former student of Penn State Altoona claims their son committed suicide after hazing by a fraternity at that school. Georgia recently announced an investigation of a fraternity at University of Georgia at Athens. The case could result in jail sentences for those members found to be involved in beating applicants . Meanwhile Maryland’s state senate unanimously voted to increase the fine for college hazing ten-fold, from $500 to $5,000.
By Ian Erickson