Murder of Robert Champion Murder Under the Friday Night Lights

Mugshot of Dante Martin
Dante Martin was sentenced to 77 months for the manslaughter of Robert Champion. Pic credit: FL Dept. of Corrections

Murder Under the Friday Night Lights is investigating a horrific case of football hazing that led to the murder of Robert Champion, a drum major at the Florida A&M University (FAMU) nationally famous band, Marching 100.

On November 19, 2011, the 26-year-old Champion experienced his supposed last bout of hazing that would lead to him being fully accepted into the band.

Champion and his bandmates gathered on their school’s bus, which was parked outside a stadium in Orlando, Florida, following the last game of the season.

The young drum major was expected to “cross over,” whereby he walked down the aisle of the bus while enduring a beating from fists, feet, straps, and sticks.

Champion attempted to reach the back of the bus as a female band member held him back. He suffered a ferocious beating, but he made it to the back.

However, Champion’s victory was short-lived. He first complained of feeling thirsty and tired, and a few minutes later, he lost his sight just before going into cardiac arrest. He died a short time later.

Robert Champion death ruled a homicide by hazing

Champion’s tragic death led to an investigation into the practice of hazing not just at FAMU but across the country. The band was suspended for over a year, and many students were expelled. The former longtime band director, Julian White, resigned, and the university president, James Ammons, left the following year.

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In the meantime, the police ruled Champion’s death as a homicide. In total, the cops charged 15 band members with various felonies and misdemeanors. Most participants entered guilty pleas and received either community service or probation.

However, Dante Martin was identified as the ringleader and was convicted of manslaughter and felony hazing. He was sentenced to over six years in prison.

Prosecutors had hoped for a ten-year sentence, but Judge Renee Roche chose to be lenient because Champion appeared to have willingly taken part in the hazing ritual.

Robert Champion family expressed disappointment with sentencing of his killers

After the sentence, Champion’s mother, Pam Champion, said, “If people are not held accountable for what they are doing, then what is the system about? That’s the key is sending a strong message. That’s what we’re missing here.”

Caleb Jackson was sentenced to 48 months for his role in the murder, and Jessie Baskin pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served a little less than a year.

The defense teams had argued that no one had intended for Robert Champion to die but that the ritual had gone too far.

Murder Under the Friday Night Lights airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

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