Florida A&M University
A hazing ritual for bandmates at Florida A&M University consisted of a beating on a parked bus.Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

It took a jury just over two hours to find three former band members at Florida A&M University guilty of manslaughter and felony hazing in the death of a drum major.

Aaron Golson, 22, Benjamin McNamee, 24, and Darryl Cearnel, 28, could each face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced in June. They were convicted of the 2011 beating of bandmate Robert Champion, 26, with punches and kicks that caused him to die from blood loss. The attacks were part of a routine hazing ritual known as "crossing Bus C." Members voluntarily participated in the tradition, which took place on a parked bus, to gain status in the percussion section.

"A strong message needs to be sent" about hazing, said the victim's mother, Pam Champion, after the guilty verdicts were read. "There are consequences. We have to get the message out. For some reason these people are not getting it."

A total of 15 former bandmates were charged in the attack, but almost all were given probation and community service. Accused ringleader Dante Martin was sentenced to six years for manslaughter, felony hazing and two counts of misdemeanor hazing related to two other band members.

State Attorney Jeff Ashton told the Orlando Sentinel that he'll recommend the minimum sentence of nine years for the last trio to be tried when they're sentenced this summer.

"Young people have to learn that you can't hide behind what the group does because you are responsible for what your friends do when you get into something like this," he said.

But the defence lawyer characterised the situation as a tragic mistake that has "derailed" the future of "some really good kids."