FAMU Hazing Suspects Escorted Robert Champion's Casket at Funeral

Three suspects in Robert Champion's death led the funeral march.

May 07, 2012, 11:57 AM

May 7, 2012 — -- Three of the Florida A&M University band members charged in the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion were fellow drum majors who escorted his casket as an honor guard at his November funeral.

A lawyer for the Champion family also said that several drum majors called Champion's mother after his death to express remorse -- but not guilt.

Champion, 26, was a member of the college's famed "Marching 100" band when he collapsed and died Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after a football game.

The death was ruled a homicide and Champion's torso was covered with bruises that were inflicted during a brutal hazing ritual that contributed to his death, according to investigators.

Last week, Florida State Attorney Lawson Lamar announced charges brought against 13 individuals in connection to Champion's death.

Among those charged with felony hazing were Jonathan Boyce, 24, Shawn Turner, 26, and Rikki Wills, 24, all fellow drum majors. They were among five drum majors who led Champion's funeral march, escorting his casket during the funeral.

"I can confirm that some of the people arrested were part of the funeral," Champion family attorney Christopher Chestnut told ABCNews.com today. Chestnut was present at Champion's Nov. 30 funeral.

When asked about Boyce, Turner and Wills, Chestnut said, "Yes, they were drum majors that participated in the funeral."

Champion's mother Pam Champion received phone calls of condolences from FAMU drum majors in the days following her son's death.

"We can't disclose who, but some of the drum majors reached out to her and although they experienced remorse and admitted to being present, their story just didn't add up," Chestnut said.

The news that the very men who marched in front of her son's casket were the ones who allegedly beat him to death on a bus has caused Pam Champion to reconsider the phone calls she received.

"Is she surprised? No. Is she appalled? Yes," Chestnut said. "Was the initial call that appeared to be sincere really insincere? It has caused her to question many of the motives."

The three drum majors were among 11 defendants who turned themselves into law enforcement after being charged with felony hazing last week. The last of the 11 turned herself in on Sunday. Most have bonded out of jail while the case makes its way through the system.

FAMU's on-campus news network, FAMU TV 20, posted a video of Rikki Wills speaking to their reporter at Champion's funeral. Wills called Champion the most "thoughtful and considerate person I've ever met in my life" and said it was a "pleasure" to know him.

"If anybody else had a relationship like I did with Robert, one thing you would remember about Robert is that he was always smiling, just always smiling and nodding," Wills said. "And I'm going to stick with that in my head for my memory of Robert."

"It's shocking, but it isn't," Chestnut said. "What's even more shocking is the irony that it's not shocking because of who we're dealing with."

"This is the culture of hazing... I think it calls into question what exactly happened," he said.

The Champion family alleged last week that there was a "calculated conspiracy" to cover-up their son's death.

"We have heard that alumni were communicating with students on that bus, telling them how to respond, what to say, what not to say in order to ensure that no one would be arrested and charged for murder. That is simply inexcusable," Chestnut said at a news conference last week.

The family has expressed anger at the fact that none of the students on the bus were ever put on academic probation or arrested. Four students were briefly suspended, but they were allowed to go back to school. The school's band director Julian White was fired, but later reinstated and put on administrative leave.

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