ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orange County judge Monday ordered two years of probation and 200 hours of community service for Brian Jones, the first of a dozen former members of Florida A&M’s famous marching band to be sentenced in the fatal hazing of drum major Robert Champion.
Jones, 23, a percussionist who had pleaded no contest to a felony-hazing charge, also will have to complete six months of community control, a type of probation that might require him to wear an ankle monitor.
Circuit Judge Marc Lubet could have sentenced Jones to five years in prison. But Lubet told Jones that his life was worth saving, and that a felony record would destroy him.
Lubet earlier had labeled Jones’ involvement in the hazing as “rather minimal.” As he announced the sentence, the judge quoted Abraham Lincoln, saying, “Mercy bears richer fruit than strict justice.”
Before the sentencing, the victim’s mother, Pamela Champion, who carried a framed photograph of her son to the podium, told the court that Jones’ role was not minimal. She called the hazing an act of murder.
“You will always know your part in what you’ve done,” she said, speaking directly to Jones. “It will haunt you.”
Champion’s parents, who traveled from Georgia for the proceeding, reacted to the sentencing later Monday in a news conference. Pamela Champion said she was disappointed, but gave Jones credit for having the courage to say he was wrong. Others who were on the bus where her son was hazed, she said, should also accept responsibility.
“They know exactly who they are and every one of them were wrong,” she said.
They had expressed disappointment in the spring when prosecutors decided to seek third-degree felony hazing charges instead of murder or manslaughter for the band members who played a role in their son’s death.
Champion, 26, died Nov. 19 after being beaten aboard a band bus parked outside the Rosen Plaza hotel. The Marching 100 had traveled to Orlando from Tallahassee to perform at the annual Florida Classic football game, a major fundraiser for FAMU and its longtime rival, Bethune-Cookman University of Daytona Beach.
During the court proceeding Monday, Jones apologized to the Champions. But he did not offer any specifics about what happened that night, or his role.
“Hazing is a completely inexcusable thing,” he said. “It went further than anybody would ever have imagined or wanted or thought it would go.”