Man charged in hazing case pleads no contest
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 2:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 2:10 p.m.
The roommate of the Florida A&M drum major who died after undergoing a hazing ritual in 2011 pleaded no contest to hazing charges on Friday before his trial scheduled for next week.
During a status hearing, prosecutors agreed to dismiss a manslaughter charge against 25-year-old Rikki Wills in exchange for his plea. He will be sentenced next month.
Jury selection had been scheduled for Monday after Wills rejected a plea deal offered by the prosecution last week. He had filed a demand for a speedy trial in early April.
He faced a manslaughter charge and two counts of hazing. The manslaughter count carried up to a 15-year prison sentence.
The plea deal will not require prison time, assistant state attorney Nicole Pegues said. She would not elaborate on the details of what his sentence could be.
"It was the best outcome he could get, as I told him, and I think it's true that there's no winner in this case," Wills' defense attorney Bill Hancock said. "It's unfortunate. I think the institution should be on trial, not these kids in any respect. But it's decent for (Wills)."
Hancock's co-counsel, Bill Sharpe, said he hoped Judge Donald Myers would withhold adjudication of guilt until after Wills completes whatever sentence is handed down on the hazing charges. The means he could have the records sealed later.
"This is a special young man," Sharpe said. "He was the head drum major of the best band in the world. He's a disciplined and special young man and this is something that he can get through and move on with his life."
Willis became the fourth of more than a dozen former band members charged in Champion's death to make a plea in the case.
Prosecutors say Wills was present when drum major Robert Champion was walked down a gantlet of other band members who beat him with fists and instruments on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel in November 2011. He collapsed and later died.
Co-defendants Brian Jones, Ryan Dean and Caleb Jackson previously pleaded no contest to the charges they faced.
Jones and Dean received combination of probation and community service for their pleas. Their deals were reached before a manslaughter charge was added by prosecutors in March. Jackson will be sentenced this fall after his plea last month to manslaughter and felony hazing.
Jackson, who is considered to be a key witness for the prosecution, is expected to offer testimony for the state about what happened to Champion. Dean and Jones are all also potential state witnesses.
Unlike several of his fellow defendants, Wills never gave an interview to investigators, though he has maintained in a handful of media interviews that he was on the bus to help Champion get through the ritual.
"They were hitting him hard. Haymakers. Kidney shots," Wills told HBO's "Real Sports" last year in describing the hazing Champion endured. "They had percussion sticks, I saw belts. He's just sitting there like a sitting duck."
Champion's death led to the departure of the band's longtime director, the abrupt resignation of the university's president, James Ammons, and the indefinite suspension of the famed marching band. The school has made sweeping changes in an effort to end a culture of hazing. A new band director was just hired earlier this week.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.