Another Witness: I Saw 2 Defendants Hitting FAMU Drum Major

Another former band member said Wednesday that she recalled seeing two of three defendants charged with manslaughter in the death of a FAMU drum major hitting him during a hazing ritual the night he died.

April Tarpley testified Wednesday, the third day of the trial for the case's final three defendants, that she saw both Benjamin McNamee and Darryl Cearnel strike 26-year-old Robert Champion at different times aboard a parked bus after a football game in November 2011.

Champion, of Decatur, Georgia, collapsed and died shortly after a ritual known as "Crossing Bus C," which included him being punched, kicked, and hit with band instruments.

McNamee, Cearnel and Aaron Golson are being tried together for manslaughter and felony hazing. If convicted, they face 15 years in prison.

Tarpley said that after the Florida Classic football game the night of Nov. 19, 2011, she became aware that some band members were going to "cross Bus C" and was told to remain on the bus by Cearnel and Dante Martin, who was "the president of Bus C."

Later, she said, while helping watch the front of the bus to make sure only appropriate people entered, she saw McNamee hitting Champion during what was known as the "hot seat" portion of the crossing.

Tarpley said McNamee was "swinging from the (luggage) rail ... swinging and hitting."

She also testified that she thinks she saw Cearnel doing what is known as "prepping" Champion, or slapping Champion's bare chest with his hands.

Asked why she had "crossed Bus C" months before, Tarpley echoed what state attorney Jeff Ashton said during his opening statement: FAMU band members willingly chose to participate in the violent ritual to garner respect.

"Just for respect," Tarpley said. "I wasn't forced to do it."

On Tuesday, other former band members testified that they saw all defendants three hitting Champion.

A total of 15 former band members were charged with manslaughter in the case, which exposed a culture of hazing inside the famed Marching 100 band. Several took plea deals and received combinations of probation and community service.

Earlier this year Martin received six years in prison for his involvement in Champion's death. Another former band member, Jessie Baskin, served one year in county jail.

The band was also suspended for more than a year in the aftermath of Champion's death.

The trial is expected to last at least a week.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us