FAMU drum major agrees to plea deal in fatal hazing
ORLANDO, Fla.—Former FAMU drum major Rikki Wills, who insists that he tried to shield his college roommate Robert Champion from a brutal hazing in Orlando in 2011, will not receive a prison or jail sentence, a prosecutor said.
Wills, 25, one of the student leaders of Florida A&M University’s iconic ensemble, pleaded no contest today to felony hazing and prosecutors dismissed a manslaughter count in a pact requiring him to testify against 11 ex-bandmates.
By pleading no contest, Wills does not admit guilt but agrees that authorities have enough facts and law to convict him of participating in the hazing of Champion, 26, who died Nov. 19, 2011, after a pummeling on a band bus.
“I hope this is something he can get past and move on with his life,” said defense lawyer Bill Sharpe, who described Wills as a “disciplined and special young man” with deep remorse about the death of his friend and fellow drum major.
Assistant State Attorney Nicole Pegues offered no explanation for the state’s offer to Wills, the fourth ex-member of the Marching 100 to shoulder a share of blame in the killing. She said his punishment will be similar to the probationary sanctions imposed on two ex-band members. The third, Caleb Jackson, may get prison time.
Wills’ sentencing was delayed until June 7 to allow the Champion family to attend.
Wills, expelled from FAMU for hazing — just three classes short of earning an undergraduate degree in criminal justice — left the courthouse without commenting, accompanied by his mother, grandmother and 98-year-old great-grandfather.
He said he went onto the bus to help Champion get through the hazing ritual known as “Crossing Bus C,” in which Champion plowed from the front of the charter vehicle to the back through a gauntlet of band members. Wills said he absorbed blows intended for Champion, who also was struck with drum mallets and straps.