From Vivian Kuo and Rich Phillips
(CNN) – A Florida A&M University drum major who died after enduring a school hazing ritual aboard a bus had asked to be hazed in order to earn respect, a criminal defendant said in court documents released Wednesday.
Robert Champion, 26, died last year because of “hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma,” the Orange County medical examiner said.
“It’s like a respect thing,” said defendant Jonathan Boyce, who noted that Champion “was wanting to do it all season.”
Some band members have said Champion died after taking part in a rite of passage called “Crossing Bus C,” where students “walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members.”
“You get beaten until you get to the back,” said one band member on the condition of anonymity.
After crossing, Boyce said he asked Champion if he was all right.
Initially, he said “yeah, yeah I’m OK,” according to Boyce. But later, he said Champion began panicking.
“He was having trouble breathing,” noted Boyce, who carried the drum major shortly before he lost consciousness. “He couldn’t see but his eyes were like wide open.”
Boyce’s attorney could not be immediately reached for comment and CNN cannot independently verify his account.
Band member Harold Finley — who’s been charged in connection with Champion’s death — and Evan Calhoun, then a second-year percussion student who has not been charged, added that the hazing ritual wasn’t obligatory.
“If you wanna be there, you’re there, if you’re not you’re not,” said Calhoun in the documents. “Nobody forces you.”
An autopsy found “extensive contusions of (Champion’s) chest, arms, shoulder and back,” as well as “evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat,” the fatty tissue directly under a person’s skin. The student didn’t have any bone fractures or injuries to his internal organs.
The medical examiner also didn’t find any evidence of “natural disease except for a slightly enlarged heart,” nor did toxicology tests reveal signs of drugs or alcohol.
Four students were expelled from the school, and another 30 were dismissed from the band after Champion’s death.
Charges were brought against 13 people after an investigation into the student’s death.
Eleven individuals each face one count of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death. Each one also is accused of two counts of first-degree misdemeanor hazing. State law provides a prison term of up to six years for those facing the more serious charges.
Two people each face a single count of misdemeanor first-degree hazing. Sentences in such cases typically call for up to a year in jail.
Champion’s death brought renewed public scrutiny to hazing, a practice that many say has gone on for years. FAMU said it has taken steps to eradicate the problem.
The death prompted the university board of trustees to approve an anti-hazing plan that includes an independent panel of experts to investigate.