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Florida college band member gets probation in hazing death

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A former Florida A&M University band member was sentenced on Monday to six months of house arrest and two years of probation in the hazing death of college drum major Robert Champion, who was fatally beaten during a marching band ritual last fall.

Judge Marc Lubet also ordered Brian Jones, 23, to complete 200 hours of community service and a four-hour hazing class. The judge withheld adjudication, meaning Jones will not have a felony conviction on his record.

"I think you're worth saving," Lubet said during the hearing attended by Champion's parents in Orlando.

Lubet said Jones, who faced up to five years in prison after pleading no contest earlier this month to a third-degree felony of hazing causing injury or death, was a "relatively minor participant" in his band mate's beating.

Jones was the first of 12 former members of the historically black college's "Marching 100" band to face sentencing for felony hazing charges filed in Champion's death. The others have pleaded not guilty.

Champion, 26, died in a hazing ritual during a band trip to Orlando on November 19, 2011. His death was ruled a homicide as a result of a hemorrhagic shock caused by blunt force trauma during the hazing on a chartered bus, according to the medical examiner's report.

On Monday, prosecutor Nicole Pegues said two witnesses put Jones at the scene, and one of the witnesses said Jones gave Champion a bear hug.

Champion's mother held a framed picture of her son as she spoke directly to Jones during the hearing.

"How long can you obscure the truth and straddle the fence and keep up the delusion of innocence and live this lie?" Pam Champion asked him.

She told Jones that no matter what sentence the judge handed down, her son's death would "always be there haunting you."

"You and I both know you will never get away," she said. "It will always be with you."

Jones said he hoped the Champion family would find strength in God but didn't mention any specifics about his involvement in the incident.

"It went further than anyone could imagine," he said.

A status hearing for the other 11 defendants is set for March 1, according to prosecution spokeswoman Anna Akers. No trial dates have been scheduled.

The famed band in Tallahassee has been on suspension since Champion's death, and the university president and the band director have resigned.

The Champion family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school. The university is seeking to get the suit dismissed, arguing in court papers that Robert Champion volunteered to be hazed in a bid to gain respect from fellow band members.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Walsh)

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