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Fla. hazing suspect pleads no contest

ORLANDO — A third band member charged with the hazing death of a Florida A&M drum major pleaded no contest Tuesday and agreed to testify against the remaining 11 defendants.

Caleb Jackson, 24, pleaded no contest to manslaughter and felony hazing. By pleading no contest, Jackson does not admit guilt but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him.

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Jackson will be sentenced in the fall after giving testimony to prosecutors about what happened to drum major Robert Champion as he walked down a gauntlet of other band members who beat him with fists and mallets on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel in November 2011. Champion collapsed and later died.

Circuit Judge Marc Lubet warned Jackson that he could face a maximum of 35 years in prison if he changed his mind and did not cooperate.

‘‘If you fully cooperate and continue to work with the state . . . you may very well come out pretty good,’’ Lubet said. ‘‘If you don’t, you may very well come out really bad.’’

Jackson answered only ‘‘yes, sir’’ and ‘‘no, sir’’ to a series of questions from the judge about whether he was entering the plea without coercion and whether he was aware he will be able to appeal any sentence.

Attorney Chuck Hobbs said Jackson is potentially prosecutors’ most important witness.

‘‘What I anticipate he will be able to testify to is who was placed, where, who was doing what, who was striking which blow,’’ Hobbs said. ‘‘I think it will help paint a much clearer picture for a jury with respect to who is culpable for that young man’s death.’’

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