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13 charged in college hazing death

Thirteen people were charged Wednesday in one of the biggest college hazing cases ever prosecuted in the United States, accused in the death of a Florida A&M University drum major who authorities say was mercilessly pummeled by fellow members of the marching band.

The charges came more than five months after Robert Champion, 26, died aboard a chartered bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after a performance against a rival school.

While the most sensational hazing cases have typically involved fraternities, sororities or athletic teams, the FAMU tragedy in November exposed a brutal tradition among marching bands at some colleges around the country.

"The death is nothing short of an American tragedy," said State Attorney Lawson Lamar. "No one should have expected that his college experience would include being pummeled to death."

Eleven defendants were charged with hazing resulting in death, a felony, and misdemeanor offenses that all together could bring nearly six years in prison. Two others face misdemeanor charges.

It was not immediately clear whether those charged were all students or whether they included faculty members or others involved in the road trip.

By Wednesday afternoon, two students were in custody at the Leon County jail in Tallahassee: Rikki Wills, 24, and Caleb Jackson, 23. Both are charged with felony hazing resulting in death.

Champion had bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back, and died of internal bleeding, Lamar said. Witnesses told emergency dispatchers that the drum major was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.

Legal experts had predicted more serious charges, such as manslaughter or second-degree murder.