By Stephen Hudak and Denise-Marie Balona, The Orlando Sentinel –
ORLANDO, Fla. — Two more Florida A&M University band members surrendered Friday on charges linking them to the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, leaving one felony suspect still at large in a case that has sidelined the famed Marching 100.
The 11th felony suspect is the lone female to be charged. She has not been identified.
Ryan Dean, 21, a percussionist from Delaware, and Jonathan Boyce, 24, a drum major from Marietta, Ga., turned themselves in to the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee, Fla., said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has helped Orange County sheriff’s deputies in the homicide probe.
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar said Champion, 26, was pummeled to death Nov. 19 on a band bus during a hazing ritual after the Florida Classic football game that was played at the Citrus Bowl.
Eight other felony suspects, including former FAMU drum majors Shawn Turner and Rikki Wills, were arrested or surrendered to authorities this week. All but Caleb Jackson, who was on probation for a 2009 battery on the campus of Tallahassee Community College, were allowed to leave custody after posting bond.
Another defendant in Champion’s death, Aaron Golson, 19, is facing a separate felony hazing charge for participating in a ritual beating of FAMU band clarinetist Bria Hunter. But prosecutors in Leon County, where Golson is set for trial next month, said Friday that they may have difficulty making the felony charge stick.
Investigators recently learned that Hunter did not suffer a broken femur as police initially reported, a fact that could hinder prosecutors who must show that the victim suffered “serious bodily injury” from the hazing incident.
B.J. Bernstein, a lawyer for Hunter, told the Orlando Sentinel that her client required treatment for her injuries but acknowledged that medical records show that Hunter’s leg was not broken.
“It does not take away from the hazing that occurred,” Bernstein said in an e-mail Friday. “It is particularly awful that one of Bria’s assailants would be involved with Robert’s death. Robert warned Bria that this hazing was like a cancer… .”
The state will at least prosecute Golson and co-defendants James Harris, 22, and Sean Hobson, 23, for misdemeanor hazing, said Jon Fuchs, the assistant state attorney handling the case. The three belonged to the “Red Dawg Order,” a clique of FAMU band members from Georgia, mainly Atlanta. The felony carries more serious penalties, including a possible prison term.
Golson was not among the students initially suspected of hazing Hunter, which is why he remained in the band and performed at the Florida Classic, said Brooke Hobbs, a spokeswoman for band director Julian White’s attorney, Chuck Hobbs.
On Thursday, Hobbs erroneously told the Sentinel that Golson, a percussionist, had been kicked out of the band before the Classic and should not have been on the bus. At the time, she said she was speaking on White’s behalf.
On Friday, she told a Sentinel reporter that White called to say he had been wrong about Golson. Then, later in the day, she sent an e-mail to say it was White’s attorney, Chuck Hobbs, who had gotten the information wrong.
Investigative records show that Hunter, a first-year student, was subjected to physical abuse because she was the “Ace” or leader of a group of “Red Dawg” pledges and had lied to the order’s pledge director about her reason for wanting to skip a meeting. The documents say she was ordered to lift her legs as if marching and then punched repeatedly in the thighs and smacked on the legs with a metal ruler.
After being beaten, Hunter left FAMU and gave up an $82,000 scholarship.
The reports say three Red Dawg pledges confirmed the abuse, though reluctantly.