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Friday, December 9, 2016

Eleven of the 13 people who allegedly participated in killing Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion have been charged with “a hazing resulting in death,” a low-grade felony. The two others are accused of misdemeanors.

You can’t blame Champion’s family for being disappointed, and a bit confused.

Champion was singled out for an attack, then beaten until he died. That it occurred during a hazing doesn’t mean it should be handled differently from any other violent homicide, yet it is being handled differently.

Way differently.

Not one of the 13 suspects was booked for murder or even plain old manslaughter, a second-degree felony that can bring up to 15 years in prison. By contrast, causing a death by hazing is only a third-degree felony for which the maximum term is six years.

In other words, a gang-style lethal assault in Florida is more leniently appraised when it’s a moronic college ritual gone awry. Six years behind bars isn’t light time, but it’s much better than the high end of a manslaughter conviction.

What do you think would have happened if Champion had been killed by a mob of strangers in a barroom, or on a street corner?

For starters, authorities wouldn’t have taken more than five months to make an arrest, especially if they had the names of everyone involved. You can also be sure that the defendants in such a case wouldn’t be charged with “hazing” — they’d be facing much heavier felonies.

Here’s how Champion died. The 26-year-old man was made to walk down the aisle of a chartered bus, parked outside an Orlando hotel, while fellow band members (and possibly others) repeatedly kicked and punched him.

Evidently this is what passed for dear tradition within the famed A&M Marching 100, now in disciplinary limbo.

Eventually, Champion collapsed. Later somebody dialed 911: “One of our drum majors is on the bus, and he’s not breathing … He’s in my hands, ma’am. He’s cold.”

If Champion was cold to the touch, it was likely he’d been down for a while.

Lying there, dying among his own band mates after a football-game performance.

In December, less than a month after the incident, the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Champion’s death was a homicide, the autopsy showing “extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back with extensive hemorrhage.”

Although coroners found no bone fractures or damage to Champion’s internal organs, there was “significant rapid blood loss” from the injuries he’d received. The cause of death was reported as “hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, incurred by blunt force trauma sustained during a hazing incident.”