October Festival Guide

‘Enough is enough': Roommate sentenced in FAMU band member’s death

FAMU Band Member Robert Champion

(CNN) — Moments after a Florida A&M drum major’s parents asked that their son’s death due to hazing not be in vain, a Florida judge doled out punishment Friday to his roommate for his role in the death — a sentence that doesn’t include time in prison.

Rikki Wills is subject to a year of community control — a form of house arrest — and five years of probation, Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Donald Myers, Jr., ruled.

The sentence came just over a month after Wills reached a plea deal with prosecutors, days before his trial was scheduled to start. He pleaded nolo contendere, or no contest, to a felony charge of hazing resulting in death and first-degree hazing, which is a misdemeanor.

Shortly before Myers ruled, the 25-year-old Wills addressed Robert Champion’s parents.

“I just want to say to the family that I am very sorry for the loss of your son,” he said.

At his lawyer’s advice, Wills’ comments were brief. But minutes earlier, both Pam and Robert Champion Sr. elaborated on their feelings after their son was beaten on a bus after a November 2011 football game in Orlando, Florida, as part of a band hazing ritual.

The 26-year-old died “within an hour” afterward, medical examiners reported.

“What if we could turn back the hand of time?” Pam Champion told the court Friday. “… What if one individual said, we can make them stop?”

She criticized those involved in the incident, who didn’t step up in its immediate aftermath.

“Instead of speaking up … they kept silent to protect themselves,” the victim’s mother said.

The Champions, who live near Atlanta, have become outspoken advocates against hazing since their son’s death. This sentiment — so more families don’t suffer like they have — was the focus of Robert Champion Sr.’s courtroom remarks Friday.

“We’re losing too many young men,” he said. “…Enough is enough.”

Florida A&M’s band, known as the Marching 100, is one of the top university marching bands in the United States, famed for its elaborate dance formations and innovative style incorporating popular music.

But Champion’s death, and other reports of hazing, sullied its reputation.

The university was put on a one-year probation in December for its handling of the incident, and the famed band was suspended for the 2012-13 school year.

The school has said it is making reforms to address the problem of hazing both on and off campus, including requiring students to sign an anti-hazing pledge.

Wills is not the only person charged in Champion’s death, nor the first to be sentenced. Twelve former students face manslaughter charges, attorneys familiar with the case said in March.

Bryan Jones pleaded no contest in October 2012 to a charge of felony hazing resulting in death. He was sentenced to six months of community control, two years of supervised probation and 200 hours of community service.

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