2 more plead in FAMU hazing; 1 could go to prison

A former band member charged in the hazing death of a Florida
A&M drum major pleaded no contest to manslaughter Wednesday and
could become the first person to go to prison for his involvement
in the beating.

Prosecutor Jeff Ashton described Jessie Baskin, 22, as being
”most-consistently identified as the most enthusiastic” band
member participating in the hazing ritual that led to Robert
Champion’ death. Baskin was beating Champion with his hands and
feet, Ashton said.

A deal with prosecutors calls for Baskin to spend nine years in
prison, though his attorneys can argue for a lighter punishment
when a judge sentences him in February.

Champion collapsed and died in November 2011 after prosecutors
said he walked down the aisle of a bus as other band members beat
him with fists and instruments. The bus was parked outside an
Orlando hotel following a football game.

Also Wednesday, Harold Finley, 21, pleaded guilty to felony
hazing. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped manslaughter
and misdemeanor hazing charges and he was sentenced to one-year of
house arrest, four years of probation, 100 hours of community
service and he must complete an anti-hazing course.

Judge Marc Lubet said the sentence would also be contingent on
Finley graduating from a college he is enrolled in and continuing
to cooperate with prosecutors.

”I want you to graduate from college and go and make something
of yourself,” Lubet told Finley.

Ashton told the judge Finley participated in the hazing of
another band member the night Champion died, but he was only
present for Champion’s hazing and did not hit him.

Six remaining defendants also had their cases set for trial, but
they will continue to discuss possible plea agreements.

Champion’s mother, Pam Champion, listened to Finley’s sentencing
by phone. As she had done during previous sentencing hearings, she
talked about what her family has been through.

”There is a time when you must really answer for what you have
done,” she said, speaking to Finley. ”When that time comes, there
will be no lawyers … It will just be you.”

Fifteen former band members were charged with manslaughter and
hazing in Champion’s death.

Eight now have accepted deals, with seven already sentenced to
combinations of probation and community service.

Another defendant, Caleb Jackson, pleaded no contest to
manslaughter in April, but has yet to be sentenced.

Champion’s death led to the departure of the band’s longtime
director, the abrupt resignation of the FAMU president James Ammons
and the suspension last year of the famed marching band. The school
has since made sweeping changes to end a culture of hazing. The
famed Marching 100 band returned to the field Sept. 1.

For Baskin’s sentencing, Aston said he will keep an open
mind.

”I want to listen to what they’re presenting. But our position
was he should do the nine years, which is the minimum guideline
sentence,” he said. ”I don’t know what statutory mitigating
circumstances they’re going to argue for downward departure. None
immediately jump to mind.”

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