ORLANDO, Florida — A former Florida A&M University band member agreed on Friday to plead no contest to felony hazing in the 2011 death of fellow drum major Robert Champion, averting a pending manslaughter charge.
Shawn Turner, 27, is expected to enter the plea next week, Orange County Assistant State Attorney Nicole Pegues said. Felony hazing carries a maximum five-year sentence, but Pegues said the agreement likely would substantially reduce the penalty.
Turner is the fifth of more than a dozen accused former FAMU band members to enter pleas. Champion, 26, died in November 2011 after collapsing following what prosecutors said was a savage beating during a hazing ritual on a bus parked in an Orlando parking lot. FAMU band members allegedly ran Champion through a gantlet following a football game.
Turner's attorney, Carlus L. Haynes, was in Orange County Circuit Court Friday to argue a motion contesting Turner's second-degree manslaughter charge. When he told Judge Marc Lubet that he was surprised Turner hadn't received a plea offer, Pegues said she was willing to accept one. The two attorneys conferred briefly before announcing the agreement.
Before reaching the deal, Haynes said Turner tried to protect Champion from the other band members.
"The defendant's job as helper was to get Robert Champion to the back of the bus amid the kicks and the blows," Haynes said.
Turner and Champion were both drum majors. According to a state investigator's report, Turner said he and another band member tried to protect Champion during the hazing assault, pushing off other band members.
No trial date has been set for the other ex-band members. Fourteen have been charged in Champion's death, including four who earlier pleaded no contest. A no-contest plea denies guilt but accepts that evidence could lead to a conviction.