Florida A&M University band members say that the drum major who died during hazing willingly got on a bus to face an initiation ritual in which he was beaten with drumsticks, mallets and fists.

According to transcripts of interviews with police investigators released May 23, band members say that drum major Robert Champion knew what he was getting into. They told detectives that, after an initial apprehension, Champion decided to get on the bus and go through the gauntlet.

“When I got there, he was already to the back of the bus and the way the procedure goes, is that you just have to make it from the front of the bus to the back and touch the back wall,” head drum major Jonathan Boyce reportedly said.

Lenauze Keon Hollis, Champion’s roommate and a fellow drum major, also went through the gauntlet. He confirmed that Champion didn’t initially want to do it, but in the end Champion decided to join his roommate.

“He made it through to the back and he was fine, cause I remember he asked me that he needed something to drink and I had a bottle of water and I gave it to him and that was it,” Hollis said according to reports. “I just got off the bus.”
That assertion may become a critical defense for the charged band members at trial. Champion’s willingness to get on the bus has already led prosecutors to seek charges less than first-degree murder, according Orlando-area defense attorney Randy McClean.

“If he went on the bus knowing, ‘We’re going to have this ritual where they punch me,’ if he knew that … basically the defense is going to take the tact, ‘Look, he consented to this and just because there is a bad outcome doesn’t make it a criminal act,'” McClean told the Associated Press.

The medical examiner’s report, part of a cache of 2,300 pages of documents released in the case May 23, according to USA Today, said Champion died of hemorrhagic shock caused by blunt-force trauma,.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the autopsy found widespread contusions over Champion’s chest, shoulder, arms and back, along with extensive hemorrhaging in his muscles.

Champion’s parents dispute the band members’ accounts. They say that he was not in favor of bodily harm.
“It doesn’t sound like my son at all,” Pam Champion told reporters in Atlanta, according to CNN reports. “He was a stickler for the rules.”

She went on to say that the band members’ assertions about the incident reflect an effort to “save themselves.”

Champion died on Nov. 19. Eleven band members face third-degree felony hazing charges and two others face misdemeanors. Conviction of the felony charge carries a prison sentence of up to six years.

The band director resigned and the band is suspended indefinitely.