The only female band member charged in the hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion was sentenced today to speak to high school and middle school students about "poor decisions" and the evils of hazing as punishment for her role in the deadly ritual.
Lasherry Codner, 22, pleaded no contest to felony hazing. A manslaughter charge was dropped.
The snare-drum player, who now lives in Atlanta, sobbed loudly as she apologized to Champion's parents, Robert Sr. and Pamela, who listened to the hearing over a phone connection from Georgia. "On behalf of myself and my entire marching-band family, no one intended on this happening," she said. "This truly changed our lives. We're very, very and deeply sorry that this happened."
As part of her plea agreement, Codner, who had refused to give a statement to Orange County sheriff's detectives investigating Champion's death, must give sworn testimony to prosecutors and testify in any trials of other band members. She also must complete an antihazing course.
Circuit Judge Marc Lubet said he was convinced Codner's apology came "from the bottom of her heart" and reflected the regret she felt for Champion's death. He described her role in Champion's death as relatively minor.
Champion, 26, was beaten to death during a hazing ritual on a bus parked at the Rosen Plaza hotel in Orlando, where Florida A &M University's famed Marching 100 was staying during the weekend of the Florida Classic, the annual football game and battle of the bands between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University.
Codner was identified by several bandmates who were asked by investigators to name individuals on the bus during the hazing.
Former drum major Ryan Dean, who received a community-service sentence for his role, told investigators that Codner was behind Champion during the ritual either pushing him or trying to hold him back. She called Champion's death and her legal ordeal as hard life lessons.
During the so-called "crossing" ritual, Champion had to push his way from the front of the bus to the back through a gantlet of band members who blocked his path, punched and kicked him.Completing the ritual was one way in which a band member could earn respect from his peers, investigators said.
Champion's mother caused tears to skid down Codner's face when she asked the young defendant: "Do you know what it feels like to lose someone you love with all your heart? Someone who is a part of you? It is a grief and a pain that cannot be put into words." Pam Champion told Codner, "No matter what anybody tells you, no matter how you try to justify it to yourself, no matter how you try to put this behind you...You are responsible for taking the life of another human being no matter how you try to dress it up or try to call it something else."
The drum major's mother also expressed her family's frustration with a justice system that has processed seven of 15 defendants in the hazing death and has not yet sent one to prison." Another missed opportunity to send a strong message," Champion said of Codner's sentence.
Seven other hazing defendants or their lawyers are expected in court this afternoon for a final pretrial hearing in front of Lubet.
Check back later for updates.