Twelve former Florida A&M students felony charges have been upgraded to second-degree manslaughter, stemming from the Robert Champion hazing incident.
The Ninth Circuit State Attorneys Office made the decision to upgrade the charges earlier this week. In May 2012, ten of the defendants were charged with third-degree felony hazing for the death of the 26-year-old drum major.
Two defense attorneys working on the case said the media knew about the changes before they did. Reporters informed the attorneys about their clients charges being upgraded prior to the State Attorneys Office announcement.
Carlus Haynes, attorney for Shawn Turner, said he was preparing to fight the felony hazing charges before learning of the new manslaughter charge.
I have tried murder, attempted murder cases and know what manslaughter is, Haynes said, I dont believe this rises to that level.
Haynes said his client is distraught about the ordeal and believes his client deserves a plea deal for his limited involvement. Haynes also said he is going to attempt to file a motion to have the new charges dismissed.
W. Craig Lawson, attorney for Harold Finley, speculated that the two defendants who pleaded guilty earlier in the case might have had something to do with his clients more serious charges.
Those two co-defendants might have made a proffer to the state attorney as part of their plea deal they received, Lawson said. Maybe this is why the state attorney upgraded the charges to second-degree manslaughter.
Lawson said he doesnt know why the state attorneys office elevated his clients charges, but he plans on thoroughly investigating what the two prior defendants discussed and contents of their plea deal.
We were trying to work something out on the hazing charge, he said. Now that my client charges went from facing five years to 15 years, Im not happy with the situation, but its within the state attorneys office to do that.
In addition, two new defendants are now charged in Champions death but have yet to be arrested.
Although other media outlets have named the two suspects, the State Attorneys Office has not officially confirmed the two individuals.
Students on campus have felt the negative attention and atmosphere concerning Champions death firsthand.
Travis Brooks, a junior psychology student from Brooksville, Fla., said the campus is no longer upbeat as it once was and that everyone seems to be depressed.
I dont believe defendants should be facing such serious charges, Brooks said, I believe that they (state attorneys) should just dive into the case a little bit more and not settle necessarily for manslaughter conviction.