A dozen students who played in Florida A&M’s famed marching band with Decatur native Robert Champion, including some from metro Atlanta, face up to 15 years in prison for his death in the landmark hazing incident from last year.
Jeff Ashton, the newly elected state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties in Florida, upgraded the charges against 10 students on Monday from felony hazing to manslaughter and charged two other students with manslaughter.
The stiffer charges and potential longer sentences are welcome news to Pam and Robert Gerald Champion, who have argued for more action after their son’s death.
At least five students from metro Atlanta, including some who knew Champion in high school, are now fighting for their freedom.
“We applaud and commend the actions of Mr. Ashton for appropriately charging this crime committed on Robert Champion,” Christopher Chestnut, the attorney for the Champion family, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Robert wasn’t hurt by hazing. He was killed by hazing. We are fortunate that someone with the courage to act has been elected in Orange County.”
In Florida, manslaughter is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The original charges of felony hazing, filed last spring, are a third-degree felony and carried a five-year maximum sentence.
Initially, 11 of Champion’s band mates, including four from metro Atlanta, were charged with third-degree felony hazing. One of the 11 pleaded no-contest and was sentenced in October to probation and community service. The Atlantans are Jonathan Boyce, 24, Shawn Turner, 26, Aaron Golson, 19, and Lasherry Codner, 20. Two other students faced misdemeanor charges.
In addition to the 10 charged with manslaughter on Monday, Ashton also charged two more ex-band members, Henry Nesbitt, 26, and Darryl Cearnel, 25, in the fatal hazing.
Nesbitt is from Austell. Calls to his family’s home by the AJC were not answered.
Cearnel, from Florida, was performing CPR on Champion when paramedics arrived at the scene, while Nesbitt called 911, according to the sheriff’s investigative summary.
According to the Associated Press, while it is unclear what roles the two played in Champion’s death, neither cooperated with the Orange County sheriff’s probe.
Calls to Ashton’s office were not returned to the newspaper, so it was not immediately clear why he upgraded the charges or included Nesbitt and Cearnel.
Read more: AJC