Suspect in FAMU Hazing Death Files Written Plea - Higher Education
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Suspect in FAMU Hazing Death Files Written Plea

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by Kyle Hightower, Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — The attorney for the last of the suspects charged in the death of a Florida A&M University drum major during a hazing ritual said his client didn’t have to appear for an arraignment Tuesday because he’d already entered a written not guilty plea.

Darryl Cearnel was scheduled to be arraigned in state court in Orlando. But attorney Anthony Britt said the previously entered plea satisfied that process.

Cearnel was charged with manslaughter and felony hazing in March, becoming the 14th former FAMU band member charged in Robert Champion’s November 2011 death.

Prosecutors say Champion, who was from Decatur, Ga., collapsed and died after walking down a gauntlet of other band members who beat him with fists and instruments on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel following a football game.

Most of the other defendants facing charges in the case were charged last year. Three have avoided jail time after entering no contest pleas and being sentenced to community service and probation. A fourth is awaiting sentencing after his no contest plea.

Attorney Chris Chestnut, who is representing Champion’s parents in a civil lawsuit filed against FAMU, said Tuesday that he plans to begin taking initial depositions in the coming weeks. He also hopes the judge in the case will set a trial date soon.

Last year, Pam and Robert Champion Sr. turned down a $300,000 settlement offer from the school.

Champion’s death led to the departure of the band’s longtime director; the abrupt resignation of the university’s president, James Ammons; and the indefinite suspension of the famed marching band. The school has made sweeping changes in an effort to end a culture of hazing.

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They included the hiring of Sylvester Young, 1969 FAMU graduate, earlier this month as the new band director.

But Pam Champion said the fact that Young is a FAMU band alumnus who has acknowledged hazing likely took place while he was at the school shows the culture hasn’t properly been addressed.

“I don’t at all see why they would even entertain the fact of putting that band back on the field or putting that band back in action,” she said.

FAMU hasn’t yet given a timetable for the band’s return.

AP reporter Kate Brumback, in Atlanta, contributed to this report.

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