Jessie Baskin, an admitted participant in the 2011 hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major, trembled Friday as a judge gave him nearly a year in the Orange County Jail for the crime.
The 22-year-old musician, who pleaded no contest to manslaughter charges for his role in Robert Champion's death in November, offered a tearful apology. The sentence made him the first of more than a dozen defendants to get jail time.
"Nobody ever intended for this to happen," Baskin said to Champion's parents, who traveled from Georgia for the hearing. "We know Robert and he was a good man. I apologize that this happened and I apologize that I was a part of it."
"I know how bad it affected you. I see my mom go through this every day 'cause all this affects her... I'm still not over it. It still affects me too."
Baskin and 14 other members of the Marching 100 band were charged with manslaughter or with hazing resulting in death, both felonies.
The seven band members who have already been sentenced received probation and community service. Charges were dismissed against one and another is awaiting sentencing. The five remaining co-defendants are awaiting trial.
"There is no hatred here," said Pam Champion, Robert Champion's mother. "Clearly the sentence doesn't fit what was done, and clearly, again, another (missed) opportunity to send a strong message ... But this is nothing new. This is what I've been getting every time I come here."
Champion, a 26-year-old drum major in FAMU's iconic marching band was bludgeoned to death Nov. 19, 2011, during a hazing ritual known as "Crossing Bus C," in which he ran from the front to the back of the percussion bus while being beaten.
The ritual was carried out on a band bus after the 2011 Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University. The bus was parked at the Rosen Plaza hotel in Orlando, where the band was staying during the Classic weekend.
Circuit Judge Marc Lubet, who described Baskin's as "one of the hardest sentences I've ever had to deal with," said his judgment was a tough choice.
He could have sent Baskin to prison for the more than nine years recommended by the State Attorney Jeff Ashton — already down from the maximum 15 years that the manslaughter charge carries.
That kind of punishment would send the anti-hazing message Champion's family longed for but would "destroy this young man's life forever" and eventually make Baskin "just another young convict on the street who will never go anywhere in life," the judge said.
Ashton argued that it would be a mistake to cast Baskin as a "good person" who made a bad decision and committed "a crime that has been accepted as not-so-bad."
"If we take good people and we send them to jail or prison for those acts, it helps," Ashton said. "It stops because those people are thinking about what they do."
Lubet went with the more lenient sentence but acknowledged that Baskin, whom he said could have had a bright future, will forever have to live with the stain of a manslaughter conviction on his record.
"I do believe he has shown remorse," Lubet said. "I think I do have to give you credit for coming up here and saying how sorry you are."
In addition to 51 weeks in jail, Baskin will have to serve five years of probation and log 300 hours of community service. At least half of those hours will have to be spent teaching others about the dangers of hazing.
After handing down the sentence Lubet attempted to explain his familiarity with the long-held culture of hazing that reaches beyond the FAMU campus.
The judge told the sobbing family members of both Baskin and Champion families that when he was at the University of Florida years ago, he knew fellow students who had been victims of hazing that was so violent that many needed stitches and some even suffered broken bones.
As Baskin left the courtroom, his attorney reminded him that he was not permitted to communicate with his family, but deputies allowed him to verbally comfort his mother who shook with tears as he was fingerprinted and prepared for jail.
"It's all right, mama," he told her as he was carted through the courtroom door flanked by court deputies. "Everything is going to be all right."
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