Sunday, December 17, 2017

Justice slow for FAMU drum major's parents

ORLANDO — In the three months since a Florida A&M University drum major was beaten to death, his parents have waited as authorities arrested seven people in a pair of other hazing cases tied to the school's renowned Marching 100.

Four FAMU band members were arrested last month for punching and paddling band pledges. Three other band members were charged in December with hazing after a female band member's beating left her with a broken thigh and blood clots.

Both of those episodes happened within weeks of Robert Champion's fatal beating on a FAMU bus outside an Orlando hotel after a performance, but no one has been charged in that case.

His parents, Robert Sr. and Pamela, trust the process but find the investigation's pace troubling, said their attorney, Chris Chestnut.

"It's very disheartening, discouraging and disappointing to see arrests made for hazing with minor injuries, but none for a murder," Chestnut said.

There are dozens of witnesses and possible suspects to be interviewed in Champion's killing, and most of them live outside the Orlando area. Some may not be cooperating.

Also, the case has garnered international attention for revealing the culture of hazing within the famous band, adding greater pressure to make sure there are no holes in the investigation.

Detectives were unable to interview all the witnesses who know what happened on the bus immediately after Champion, 26, died because his death wasn't ruled a homicide until a month after he collapsed. They have been trying to re-create the events by interviewing witnesses, often traveling to Tallahassee, where FAMU is located.

"It's not like arriving at the scene of a homicide where there has been a shooting and you interview all the witnesses," said Danielle Tavernier, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office. "They have to go out and coordinate with those people who were there that day."

Half a dozen detectives have interviewed or are in the process of interviewing 30 to 35 witnesses, said Ginette Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

"With this amount of people … three months really isn't a lot of time with an active caseload that these detectives are carrying," Rodriguez said.

After an autopsy, authorities ruled Champion's death a homicide. They found Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body and died from shock caused by severe bleeding after he endured hazing on a bus outside the hotel where band members were staying after FAMU's annual football game against rival Bethune-Cookman University.

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