Florida A&M Student Pleads No Contest to Charges in Hazing Death

The roommate of Robert Champion, the drum major who died in 2011, reversed his not guilty plea.

Posted: 05/10/2013 04:31 PM EDT
Rikki Wills

The roommate of the Florida A&M drum major who died in a hazing incident in 2011 has pleaded no contest to charges of hazing.

The death of 26-year-old Robert Champion, the member of the renowned Marching 100 band, rocked the campus of the historically Black university. It eventually led to the resignation of the university’s president and the suspension of the band.

Rikki Wills, who is 25 and was Champion’s roommate, had previously maintained that he had attempted to protect the drum major from the hazing ritual allegedly inflicted by fellow band members.

Wills was scheduled to stand trial beginning next week. However, he accepted a plea deal from prosecutors who dropped the manslaughter charge, which carried a potential prison sentence of 15 years.

Prosecutors plan to use his testimony in their case against the other defendants. Wills is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7. Assistant State Attorney Nicole Pegues said Wills will not face time in prison. 

Champion died in Orlando after he collapsed following what prosecutors say was a savage beating during a hazing ritual. It happened on a bus parked in a hotel parking lot after Florida A&M played Bethune-Cookman University in their annual rivalry football game.

Since then, prosecutors charged 12 former Florida A&M University band members with manslaughter in Champion’s death. Meanwhile, the university has sought to reach a settlement with the parents of Champion.

Most of the defendants pleaded not guilty last year to felony hazing, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. But prosecutors added two defendants, Darryl Cearnel and Henry "Snacks" Nesbitt, and upgraded the potential risk to ex-band members earlier this year by adding a charge of manslaughter, which carries a maximum prison term of 15 years.

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(Photo: Courtesy Leon County Jail)

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