Dante Martin was sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter and felony hazing in the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, but the victim’s family was dissatisfied with the punishment.
“If people are not held accountable for what they are doing, then what is the system about?” Champion’s mother, Pam Champion, said. “That’s the key in sending a strong message. That’s what we’re missing here.”
Prosecutors sought nine years in Champion’s beating death during a November 2011 band hazing incident. Multiple character witnesses and several letters of support persuaded Judge Renee Roche to give Martin a lenient sentence. She called him a “remarkable young man” and said she wanted him after prison to have a life he could develop.
“Forgiveness doesn’t have a role in the legal system. The role of the legal system is punishment,” Roche said. “All other things are secondary.”
Martin was convicted in October during a trial in which prosecutors said he was the ringleader of the ritual. Defense attorney Dino Michaels said he planned to appeal the sentence. Martin was the first of 15 former band members to stand trial in the death of Champion, who was from Decatur, Georgia, outside of Atlanta.
The case crystalized the little-known culture of hazing in FAMU’s noted Marching 100 band, which was suspended for more than a year while school administrators worked to reset the program. Champion’s parents said a stiffer penalty for their child’s death would have served as a greater deterrent for future abuses. They also disagreed with the notion their son consented to hazing.
Martin was visibly nervous at times during the hearing. He was remorseful in addressing Champion’s family. “This is something I will live with for the rest of my life,” Martin said.
Previously, former band member Jessie Baskin received 51 weeks in county jail after pleading no contest to manslaughter charges. Several others have been sentenced to combinations of community service and probation. The final three former band members charged in Champion’s death have trials set for April.
While they wanted a longer sentence for Martin, the victim’s father said he does not possess any disdain for any of the defendants.
“This is a decision that [Martin] made,” Robert Champion Sr. said. “And sometimes you make a wrong decision; you have to pay the price for that.”