Parents' lawyer says FAMU hazing victim's beating was not 'hate crime'



ORLANDO, Fla.,None - The parents of slain Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion announced during a news conference on Tuesday that they believe their son was hazed worse than others because he was a "stickler" to the rules and was opposed to hazing. 

Robert Champion's mother wiped away tears as she talked about her son, who died from a brutal beating hours after the Florida Classic at the Citrus Bowl in November.

Champion's parents, Robert and Pam Champion, and their lawyer, Christopher Chestnut, wanted to put to rest the alleged rumors that Champion was hazed worse than others because of his sexuality. 

"You just do what you got to do, because you are doing it for your son," said Pam Champion.

The news conference was held at the Rosen Plaza Hotel, which investigators said was the same place Champion's fellow Marching 100 band members hazed him to death.

His parents came to Orlando to announce a new lawsuit and to deny the suggestion that Champion was beaten because he was gay. 

After the news conference, Chestnut said he has learned the hazing ritual known as "Crossing Bus C" not only included beatings, but the pledges weren't allowed to talk, eat snacks or get water on the bus, even when traveling on long trips.

"This is not a hate crime, this is a hazing crime, and that's what we are here to say today. We want to make the record very clear that FAMU has a 50-year history, a culture in this band of hazing," said Chestnut.

Champion was beaten so badly, that the medical examiner said his body went into shock and he bled to death. An autopsy revealed extensive bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder, and back. The medical examiner ruled Champion's death a homicide.

"The hardest time for me is in the evening, at night because usually he would call at that time," said Pam Champion.

Chestnut said he interviewed several eyewitnesses, who have given names and described in detail how Champion may have taken blows from up to 30 people in the hazing ritual.

Witnesses also said that Robert Champion was gay, which was something his parents didn't know.

Chestnut confirmed that Champion led an alternative lifestyle, but said the hazing was not a hate crime.  Chestnut said the beating was a case of hazing, due to Champion's opposition to the act.

"Robert Champion was hazed more severely because he was a stickler for the rules, because he was anti-hazing," said Chestnut.

The Champions already plan to sue FAMU, and now, they're suing the charter bus that their son was on when he died.

The president of the Fabulous Coach bus company said he was disappointed, and insisted his bus driver didn't know Champion was being hazed.

He said the driver responsible for Champion's bus left it running and unattended to talk to other drivers.

"We want to know what bus employee was assigned to this bus. How did the students get on," Chestnut said.

The Champions said they've received no information from the sheriff's office about their son's homicide investigation, and they are frustrated about that.

Champion's parents also told WFTV they have just completed the first phase in setting up the Robert Champion Foundation.

The foundation would educate students in middle and high school about hazing.

It would also provide scholarships to college students.

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