Prosecutors today added manslaughter and felony hazing to their case against former FAMU drum major Jarrod Deas, who was once charged only with a misdemeanor.
Deas, 24, was scheduled to appear in court this morning on a misdemeanor charge of hazing in an incident involving fellow drum major Keon Hollis when Orange County Judge Martha Adams announced that prosecutors had added the more serious charges. Deas was accused of participating in the hazing of Hollis on the same parked charter bus where Robert Champion received a fatal pummeling after the Florida Classic football game at the Citrus Bowl on Nov. 19, 2011.
Deas is now also charged with manslaughter and felony hazing resulting in the death of Champion, 26, said defense lawyer Mutaqee Naim Akbar of Tallahassee.
Prosecutors had been weighing an upgrade for months but, Akbar said, they believe their case against Deas has been bolstered by testimony given by hazing defendants who accepted plea deals. Those include fellow drum majors, Shawn Turner and Rikki Wills, both of whom received probation and community-service sanctions.
"They said they got information that Jarrod was on the bus with Robert Champion," Akbar said of prosecutors.
Deas, Hollis and Champion also were drum majors, student leaders of the band.
According to investigative reports, Hollis, who was not seriously injured, told investigators that Deas "helped" him complete the "crossing" ritual by pulling him to the back of the bus. Hollis submitted to the hazing minutes before Champion. Participants in the "Crossing Bus C" ritual must push from the front of the bus to the back through a gantlet of fellow band members who block the aisle and punch, kick and swing at them. No one had implicated Deas in Champion's death.
The difference between misdemeanor and felony hazing is the severity of injury.
Detectives concluded that band members sought to earn respect from their marching peers by completing the ritual.
The hazing scandal led to charges against more than a dozen former band members, forced university officials to suspend FAMU's iconic marching band indefinitely, prompted the sudden retirements of longtime band director Dr. Julian White and FAMU President James Ammons, and formed the basis of a lawsuit against the school.
Florida law makes no distinction among hazing participants who "help" or harm hazees. The act of participating is unlawful in Florida.
Shudak@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6361. ___
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