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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