Jurors to start deliberating in Florida A&M University drum major's hazing death trial



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ORLANDO, Florida — Jurors could start deliberating Friday in the case of a former Florida A&M University band member charged with manslaughter and hazing in the death of a drum major who was beaten nearly three years ago on a band bus as part of a hazing ritual.

The defense presented no witnesses, and Dante Martin, 27, accused by witnesses of being the ringleader, declined to take the stand in his own defense Thursday.

"It wasn't necessary," defense attorney Richard Escobar said. "The government's witnesses were our witnesses."

Robert Champion, 26, died in November 2011 after the Florida Classic, a football game in Orlando between his school, Florida A&M in Tallahassee, and Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach.

In a brutal ritual, Champion and two other band members had to push their way through the bus, while their fellow musicians kicked them and pummeled them with fists and drumsticks. Escobar in the defense said the gauntlet rite called "crossing Bus C" was a competitive activity that cannot legally be called hazing, which he claims removes the jury's ability to find Martin guilty.

Several students testified they submitted to similar hazing, a one-time rite of passage, after being shunned for refusing. The case brought into focus the culture of hazing and the storied Marching 100's performances were suspended for more than a year after Champion's death, only starting to perform again at the beginning of the 2013 football season.

A state medical examiner testified Thursday that Champion, of Decatur, Georgia, died from massive blood loss within his own body through severe bruising. Half of his blood supply was lost into bruises, where it pooled in the damaged tissue, Dr. Sara Irrgang said. Dangerous enzymes were also released by the damage.

"Eventually you reach the point of no return," Irrgang said. She added that the injury was similar to tissue damage soldiers suffer during blasts.

Champion initially said he was fine after the beating. Shortly afterward, he vomited and collapsed and died in a parking lot. Irrgang said medical workers might have saved Champion had they known more about the nature of his injuries. The official cause of death was hemorrhagic shock caused by blunt force trauma.

"All of the blood loss might not have occurred during the beating. It might have taken some time. There was no abnormality to the heart," Irrgang said.

Others involved in the hazing have escaped charges or pleaded guilty to lesser ones.

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