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Florida Supreme Court upholds conviction of FAMU band member

December 13, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Ending a 4-year-old legal battle, Florida’s highest court on Thursday upheld the conviction of a former Florida A&M University band member who was convicted of killing a fellow band member during a brutal hazing ritual.

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected Dante Martin’s appeal in the 2011 death of Robert Champion. Martin was sentenced to more than six years in prison in 2014, but his attorneys had contended that the state’s anti-hazing law was vague and should not have been applied to Martin.

Champion, 26, of Decatur, Georgia, died after members of Florida A&M’s famed Marching 100 band beat him in a hazing ritual called “Crossing Bus C.” During his trial, witnesses testified that Martin was known as “the president of Bus C” and he organized the initiations that required fellow band members to try to make their way through a pounding gauntlet of fists, drumsticks, and mallets from the front of the bus to the back.

The Marching 100 had played at Super Bowls and before U.S. presidents and the resulting scandal upended the university. FAMU officials wound up suspending the famed band for more than a year and the fallout led to the abrupt resignation of the school’s president.

During arguments before the high court, defense attorney Rupak Shah had argued the state’s anti-hazing law makes an exception for “customary athletic events or other similar contests or competitions.” But the justices rejected the argument, saying that nothing about the hazing ritual resembled a competition.

“The person crossing is not competing against another person or group of persons,” wrote Chief Justice Charles Canady. ’No one keeps score during the crossing because there is no system of scoring, the crossing is not timed, no prize is awarded after the crossing, no referee oversees the crossing (either to enforce rules or protect the life of the participant), and the participant “wins” the crossing by surviving a brutal beating.”

Shah said that “although we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, we respect it.

“Mr. Martin, like the other individuals involved in this incident, is a good person,” Shah added. “He went to college for the right reasons, but unfortunately got involved in a ritual that had been practiced for many decades. Mr. Martin is now looking forward to the future and hopes to share what happened in this case with other students.”

Martin, who is now 31, was convicted of manslaughter and felony hazing. He is scheduled to be released from prison in April 2020.

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This story corrects day of week throughout to Thursday, not Friday

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