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10 of 11 charged in FAMU felony hazing turn themselves in to authorities

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri May 4, 2012
Florida A&M University student and band member Robert Champion, 26, died November 19.
Florida A&M University student and band member Robert Champion, 26, died November 19.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 1 of those charged was also charged in another alleged hazing incident
  • The family of the 1 woman who hasn't turned herself in is in Georgia, police say
  • 5 of the 10 charged with felony hazing who were in jail have been bailed out
  • Prosecutors say they hazed a Florida A&M band member last year prior to his death

(CNN) -- All but one of 11 people facing felony hazing charges tied to a Florida A&M University band member's death -- including one charged with hazing in another case at the same school -- had turned themselves in by Friday afternoon, a state police spokeswoman said.

Authorities have been in contact with the family, who are in Georgia, of the lone young woman who has been charged but has not yet gone to a Florida jail, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, via e-mail.

Two of the individuals charged in the case turned themselves in Friday, and both of them were at the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee, Flordia, according to Plessinger. Others did so earlier in the week.

One day ago, Plessinger said two of those who had not turned themselves in by then were in Georgia and another was in Delaware.

Five of those charged had been bailed out as of Friday afternoon, while the other five were still behind bars at the time, according to the state police spokeswoman.

Among those still in jail is Aaron Golson. He'd also been charged last December with hazing and felony battery, after fellow FAMU band member Bria Hunter said she had suffered a cracked femur, deep bone bruise and blood clots after being beaten repeatedly on the thighs.

According to arrest affidavits, Golson and two other students charged in that case were part of the "Red Dawg Order," a group of FAMU band members from Georgia. Hunter told police she was asked to join the group and was subjected to physical abuse last October 31.

Hunter's attorney B.J. Bernstein denied comment on the fact that Golson is also among the 11 people charged with felony hazing in the death of 26-year-old Robert Champion, as announced Wednesday by prosecutors.

In addition to those 11, two others are charged with misdemeanor hazing in that case.

Champion, a FAMU Marching 100 drum major, collapsed on a band bus after a November 2011 football game in Orlando, Florida. Medical examiners reported his death came within an hour of his being badly beaten during a hazing incident.

His mother, Pam Champion, has said her family is disappointed the suspects didn't face more serious charges. She also accuses authorities of botching the investigation, saying they didn't properly process the bus for evidence and failed to immediately question students who were on board.

And the family's lawyer, Chris Chestnut, said the family believes FAMU alumni coached the students on how to answer questions from police.

"We know they were caucusing to determine how to get away with murder," Chestnut said. He said the family, which earlier this year filed a negligence lawsuit against the bus company and its driver, plans to sue the school soon.

Deputy Ginette Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, defended its investigation.

"I know our deputies questioned everyone available," Rodriguez said. "I can assure you our detectives conducted a thorough and complete investigation, as we do in every case."

Champion's death brought renewed public scrutiny to hazing, a practice that has gone on for years despite what the Tallahassee university said had been efforts to eradicate the problem.

Some university band members have said Champion died after taking part in an annual rite of passage called "Crossing Bus C," an initiation process in which pledges attempt to run down the center aisle from the front door of the bus to the back while being punched, kicked and otherwise assaulted by senior members.

An estimated 30 people were on the vehicle. An autopsy found "extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back," as well as "evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat," medical examiners reported.

CNN's George Howell and Rich Phillips contributed to this story.

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