The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of former Florida A&M University (FAMU) student and marching band member Dante Martin, jailed for his involvement in a hazing ritual that killed fellow “Marching 100″ member Robert Champion in November 2011.
Martin was among 13 students charged with beating Champion to death in a longstanding ritual called “crossing Bus C,” where band members are repeatedly punched, slapped and kicked as they walk from the back to the front of a bus.
In 2015, a jury convicted Martin of manslaughter, felony hazing resulting in death and two counts of misdemeanor hazing, sentencing him to 77 months in prison.
Martin had argued that the Florida hazing statute underpinning his conviction, 1006.63, was unconstitutionally overbroad — too vague to be properly enforced. And as the bus crossing was related to an athletic event, Martin’s lawyer argued it could be considered a competition, which doesn’t fit under the statute.
But justices disagreed, ruling that although Martin pointed out some ”run-of-the-mill ambiguity” in the hazing statute, Champion’s brutal beating “falls squarely and unambiguously” under its definition.
“To the contrary, the crossing most closely resembles the infamous military punishment known as the ‘running of the gauntlet,’ ” the opinion said.
Chief Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady wrote the opinion, with which Justices Peggy Quince, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson concurred. Justices Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis concurred in result only.
Martin’s Tallahassee lawyer Rupak Shah of Escobar & Associates said his client is looking forward to his release and to sharing his story with other students.
“Although we believe Mr. Martin’s appeal should have been granted, we respect the court’s ruling. We also want the public to know that Mr. Martin, like the other participants in the incident, is a good person. He went to college for the right reasons. Unfortunately, Mr. Martin got involved in a marching band ritual that had been practiced for many decades,” Shah said.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi represented the state in the case, with bureau chief Wesley Heidt and assistant attorneys general Kristen L. Davenport and Bonnie Jean Parrish.
In a seperate civil lawsuit, FAMU reached a $1.1 million settlement with Champion’s family in 2015.