Manslaughter Charges Upgraded In Florida A&M Hazing Case

Twelve former members of the Florida A&M marching band are charged in the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. The charges have now been upgraded to manslaughter. Champion's parents said Tuesday that they are encouraged by the stiffer charges.

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Today in Atlanta, the parents of Robert Champion spoke out. He was the Florida A&M drum major who was beaten to death in a hazing incident. Now, a dozen former Florida A&M band members are facing manslaughter charges. As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, a new prosecutor has upgraded the charges.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Florida State Attorney Jeff Ashton who recently took office added manslaughter on top of the less severe hazing charges. That means if convicted, the defendants could face up to 15 years in prison. Robert Champion's parents say it's a step in the right direction. Pam Champion is Robert's mother.

PAM CHAMPION: I'm more encouraged now as to the leadership that is in place now. The word hazing itself does not depict what has been done to my son or any other individual.

LOHR: The family's attorney, Christopher Chestnut, says the new charges are more in line with the crime that took place in November 2011. Robert Champion, a drum major at Florida A&M, was kicked, punched, and severely beaten on a bus after a football game. He died within an hour after the hazing ritual. Chestnut says he was not contacted about the decision and did not expect the new charges.

CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT: It was certainly a shock, I mean, to all off us, a good shock, that we got a new sheriff in town and he's doing what needs to be done.

LOHR: All along, Champion's parents said the charges were not severe enough. Champion's father, Robert Sr., and his mother were asked what they would tell students who were involved.

ROBERT CHAMPION SR.: What we would probably say to the students is that we don't hold hatred towards them. But what must be done is justice must be served.

CHAMPION: There should be accountability for what has been done. There's no way around that. So we have to look for the justice in - that will be served every day.

LOHR: Florida A&M's marching band has been suspended, and the university is still looking for a new band director after the old one was forced out. The family is pursuing a civil case against the school. The Champions rejected a $300,000 settlement last year. Two former band members have already pleaded guilty to charges related to the hazing death. The next hearing in the criminal case is not expected until late summer. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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