TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Two former members of the Florida A&M University band pleaded no contest to reduced charges of misdemeanor hazing in the beating of a freshman clarinet player as part of a deal with prosecutors Thursday.
After accepting their pleas, Circuit Judge Charles Dodson sentenced Aaron Golson, 19, and Sean Hobson, 23, each to 30 days in the Leon County Work Camp followed by 12 months of probation.
Golson also is one of 11 former band members charged with felony hazing in the Nov. 19 death of drum major Robert Champion. He was beaten on a band bus parked outside a hotel in Orlando, where the famed Marching 100 had gone for a football game.
Hobson and Golson each originally had faced up to five years in prison on felony hazing charges in the beating of freshman Bria Shante Hunter about three weeks before Champion’s death. Assistant State Attorney Stefanie Walters said medical records did not provide the required proof of serious bodily injury.
Hunter was bruised and initially thought to have a cracked femur, but further examination showed that was not the case after she returned home to the Atlanta area, said the victim’s lawyer, B.J. Bernstein.
She said Hunter and her parents were satisfied with the plea deal because the sentences were serious punishment for young, first-time offenders. The state also dropped battery charges against both defendants.
“It sends a message that there’s criminal culpability for acts of hazing,” Bernstein said.
She criticized Florida A&M, however, for failing to crack down after Hunter reported what happened. There have been instances of band hazing going back many years at the Tallahassee campus.
“Had the school acted on it, maybe it would have saved a life,” she said.
Hunter, who gave up an $80,000 scholarship when she withdrew from school after the hazing, is planning legal action against Florida A&M, Bernstein said. Hunter is now taking courses at another school in Georgia.
Hobson and Golson were accused of punching Hunter in the legs and hitting her legs with a spatula, notebook binders and rulers on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 as part of her initiation into a secret group of band members from Georgia known as “Red Dawg Order.”
“I know I didn’t do what everybody said I did,” Hobson said after the hearing. “I know she knows what happened.”
Hobson, though, acknowledged that he was “over the line” and as an upperclassman he bore responsibility.
“I take my responsibility for what I did,” said Hobson, who is nine courses short of graduating and plans to transfer to another school.
Golson and his attorney declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
The university indefinitely suspended the famed Marching 100, which has performed at Super Bowls and in inauguration parades, after the death of Champion, who also was from Georgia. Champion and Hunter both had attended Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Ga.
Legal action in the case of a third defendant, James Harris, 22, was delayed. He was charged only with felony hazing and has cooperated with investigators, Bernstein said. His lawyer contends Harris did not participate in the hazing that Tallahassee police say occurred at his off-campus apartment.
University President James Ammons on Monday announced the band’s suspension would continue for at least another year as the school tries to come up with a strategy for stamping out the hazing tradition.
“It’s going to change because there’s consequences,” Hobson said outside the courtroom. “Not everybody does participate in it, but it happens. It happens everywhere. It happens in football. It happens in sports. It happens in a lot of things, just different ways. Is it really going to be gone? Who knows?”
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