Robert Champion: FAMU drum major wanted to be hazed defendant Jonathan Boyce says

(CNN) -- A Florida A&M University drum major who died after enduring a school hazing ritual aboard a bus had asked to go through the rite in order to earn respect, a criminal defendant said in court documents released Wednesday.

Robert Champion, 26, died last year because of "hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma," the Orange County medical examiner said.

"It's like a respect thing," said defendant Jonathan Boyce, who noted that Champion "was wanting to do it all season."

Champion is thought to have died after taking part in a rite of passage called "Crossing Bus C," in which students "walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members."

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"You get beaten until you get to the back," said one band member on the condition of anonymity.

But Champion's parents said Wednesday their son had advocated against hazing.

"It doesn't sound like my son at all," his mother, Pam Champion, told reporters at a news conference in Atlanta. "He was a stickler for the rules."

Boyce and other defendants are only trying to "save themselves" by claiming that her son wanted to participate in the ritual, she said, calling the incident "a brutal assault."

"It certainly wasn't hazing."

As for the future of FAMU's Marching 100, Pam Champion said, "Until you clean house, you can't... consider putting that band back on the field."

After the incident, Boyce said he asked Champion if he was all right.

Initially, he said "yeah, yeah I'm OK," according to Boyce. But later, he said Champion began panicking.

"He was having trouble breathing," noted Boyce, who carried the drum major shortly before he lost consciousness. "He couldn't see but his eyes were like wide open."

Boyce's attorney could not be immediately reached for comment and CNN cannot independently verify his account.

Band member Harold Finley -- who's been charged in connection with Champion's death -- and Evan Calhoun, then a second-year percussion student who has not been charged, added that the hazing ritual wasn't obligatory.

"If you wanna be there, you're there, if you're not you're not," said Calhoun in the documents. "Nobody forces you."

Band member Kerian Cox, who was a percussion section leader, told investigators that heavier hazing can come after a student is identified for the more senior level positions.

"I guess they know I was gonna be like a (band) leader in the future," he said in the deposition, recalling his own earlier experiences with the ritual.

Cox added that the band's trombone section was "cut in half" due to suspensions for alleged hazing prior to Champion's death.

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy ruled the death a homicide. The autopsy found "extensive contusions of (Champion's) chest, arms, shoulder and back," as well as "evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat," the fatty tissue directly under the skin. He did not have any bone fractures or injuries to his internal organs.

The medical examiner also didn't find any evidence of "natural disease except for a slightly enlarged heart," nor did toxicology tests reveal signs of drugs or alcohol.

Four students were expelled from the school, and another 30 were dismissed from the band soon after Champion's death.

A law enforcement investigation resulted in charges being brought against 13 people. Eleven individuals each face one count of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death. Each one also is accused of two counts of first-degree misdemeanor hazing. State law provides a prison term of up to six years for those facing the more serious charges.

Two people each face a single count of misdemeanor first-degree hazing. Sentences in such cases typically call for up to a year in jail.

Champion's death brought renewed public scrutiny to hazing, a practice that many say has gone on for years. Other band members had come forward previously with allegations of hazing and some had been hospitalized for injuries allegedly suffered in the practice.

FAMU said it has taken steps to eradicate the problem, and after Champion died the university's board of trustees approved an anti-hazing plan that includes an independent panel of experts to investigate hazing allegations.

 
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