Prosecutor, defense make closing arguments in hazing case

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The three remaining defendants on trial for the hazing death of a Florida A&M drum major beat him on a bus because it was tradition, not because they disliked him, a prosecutor said Friday during closing arguments.

Robert Champion’s death was the result of a hazing tradition that was ingrained in the school’s famed band, said State Attorney Jeff Ashton.

“Tradition: As a result of that, Robert Champion was beaten to death by his friends. They didn’t beat him because they hated him. It was a tradition,” Ashton said.

Known as “Crossing Bus C,” the ritual required band members to try to make it to the back of the bus with as many as three dozen fellow members doing everything to stop them. Succeeding through “the crossing” was a way to earn the respect and acceptance of fellow band members. Other parts of the ritual included “the hot seat,” when band members stayed in bus seats with heads between their legs as other band members beat them, as well as “prepping,” when a shirtless band member was slapped on the back and chest.

Champion collapsed after going through “the crossing” in November 2011 on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel. He died a short time later. Two other band members passed through the bus ordeal before Champion, and survived.

Defense attorneys challenged the testimony of other band members who were on the bus, contending that prosecutors never proved any individual was responsible for Champion’s death. Attorneys for Benjamin McNamee, Aaron Golson and Darryl Cearnel also said there was no conspiracy, as prosecutors claim. If convicted, the defendants each face 15 years in prison.

“They can’t prove the crimes he is facing,” said Michael Dicembre, McNamee’s attorney.

Closing arguments were delayed after Ashton wanted to find out if jurors were influenced by the sight of two defendants praying outside the courtroom.

Almost all of the six jurors and two alternates said they saw Golson and McNamee praying, but they said it wouldn’t influence them during deliberations.

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