One of the former Florida A&M University band members who beat Robert Champion in the infamous hazing homicide was sentenced on Friday to a year in jail.
Jessie Baskin became the first FAMU student to be sentenced to jail time for his role in the hazing death of the drum major when he was ordered to serve 51 weeks in the county jail, sentenced to five years of probation and given 300 hours of community service for participating in the beating death of Champion, 26, in November 2011.
Fourteen other former band members were charged with manslaughter and hazing in Champion’s death. Seven have been sentenced to combinations of probation and community service. One other defendant, Caleb Jackson, 25, has pleaded no contest to manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing.
Champion’s death brought dark clouds that hovered over one of the most successful institutions within the HBCU ranks and led the temporary disbandment of arguably the best band in the country. The tragic episode also led to the departure of the band’s longtime director and the abrupt resignation of the university’s president.
In the Baskin hearing that lasted nearly three hours, Baskin’s attorney called several character witnesses from the 22-year-old’s family, including his mother and father. He also submitted a brief that contained letters pleading for leniency.
Baskin, who faced nine years in prison after pleading no contest to manslaughter in November, was emotional throughout, several times wiping away tears, and other times trembling in his seat.
“I’ve sentenced a hundred people to life in prison. This is one of the hardest sentences that I’ve ever had to deal with,” Judge Marc Lubet said. “No matter what I do, I can’t bring Robert Champion back.”
Champion, a native of suburban Atlanta, died during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel. Champion collapsed after prosecutors say band members beat him with fists and instruments.
Champion’s parents – Robert Sr. and Pam Champion – also testified Friday, as they had at previous sentencing hearings. Both expressed their ongoing grief, with Pam Champion encouraging Baskin to “make positive choices going forward”
“You did wrong … you must pay the consequences for what you did,” she said.
Before Lubet imposed his sentence, Baskin himself offered a statement, at one point turning toward Champion’s parents and giving a tearful apology.
“I apologize that this happened. I apologize for how this has affected you,” he said through a wailing voice. “I’m not over it. It has affected me too. Robert was a good man and we know that …. We did not intend for this to happen.”
Pam Champion said though she believes Baskin’s sentence was too light, it won’t deter her family and a foundation started in her son’s name from trying to stop hazing nationwide.
“Clearly the sentence doesn’t fit what was done, including another opportunity to send a strong message,” she said. “We have to talk to everyone, because what happened at that school was allowed to happen…But the message of the foundation is to say `No more.’”