Sunday, June 24, 2018

Charges dropped against a defendant in FAMU case, attorney says

ORLANDO — An attorney for one of the remaining defendants charged in the hazing death of a Florida A&M drum major said Saturday that prosecutors will not pursue charges against his client.

Zachary White, the attorney for ex-band member Henry Nesbitt, told the Associated Press that the state attorney is dismissing manslaughter and felony hazing charges against Nesbitt in Robert Champion's November 2011 death following a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.

A message left with the State Attorney's Office was not immediately returned, but a "Nolle Prosequi" was filed Friday in Nesbitt's case. The Latin phrase means the charges are not being pursued.

Champion — originally from Decatur, Ga. — collapsed and died after prosecutors said he walked down the aisle of a bus as other band members beat him with fists and instruments.

Nesbitt, 27, was not implicated by witnesses as being heavily involved in Champion's hazing, according to investigation documents previously released by the state attorney. His only listed involvement was being the person who called 911 after Champion collapsed.

"He's just thankful that it's over for him," White said. "But he still maintains his motivation for obviously speaking up and talking was because he thought Robert Champion's family needed to know what happened to their child."

White said the dismissal is not part of any plea deal, though Nesbitt remains on the state's witness list. Nesbitt is declining to comment on the case while it is pending for the remaining defendants in the case.

White had filed a motion for a statement of particulars against his client in the case that was scheduled to be held Monday. He said he filed the motion because he thought what the state had filed previously against Nesbitt was not enough to sustain a conviction. White said he believes in the end that the state "probably felt the same way."

Fifteen former band members were charged with manslaughter and hazing in Champion's death. Seven have been sentenced to probation and community service. Two other defendants have pleaded no contest to manslaughter and await sentencing.

Judge Renee Roche has scheduled the case for the trial period that begins June 9 for the former FAMU band members facing manslaughter and hazing charges.

State Attorney Jeff Ashton told Roche during a hearing in January that he would be surprised if Nesbitt and fellow defendant Jarrod Deas didn't have their cases worked out before June. Like Nesbitt, Deas is not considered to have been a heavy participant in Champion's hazing.

Deas was initially charged only with misdemeanor hazing of another band member. But those charges were upgraded to manslaughter and hazing of Champion after witnesses placed Deas on the bus during that incident as well.

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