Published Tuesday, July 12, 2011 | 12:23 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, July 12, 2011 | 3:24 p.m.
Map of O'Sheas
3555 Las Vegas Blvd South, Las Vegas
A Florida teacher who faces a murder charge from throwing a fatal punch last week to a Utah man during an altercation at a Las Vegas Strip casino is expected to be released on bail soon.
"He should be out by the end of the day," said Jack Buchanan, attorney for Benjamin Gerard Hawkins, 37, of Gainesville, Fla., who was charged in the death of John Massie, 46, of Roy, Utah.
The Clark County Coroner's office said Massie's death was a homicide caused by "blunt force trauma of head due to a fall, due to a physical altercation."
Hawkins, a social studies teacher and an assistant high school football coach at Bradford County High School in Starke, Fla., had originally been charged with first degree murder, which carries no bail.
However, the district attorney's office today amended the charge from first degree murder to open murder, which gives a jury more options for a conviction, including a lesser offense, such as involuntary manslaughter. During a bail hearing today before Justice of the Peace William D. Jansen in Las Vegas Justice Court, Jansen set Hawkins' bail at $25,000, although prosecutors argued for $100,000.
Part of the reason for the reduced bail was that the judge received a character reference letter for Hawkins from the sheriff of Bradford County, Fla., Buchanan said.
The judge also reset Hawkins' preliminary hearing from next week to 8:30 a.m. Sept. 28. That will allow Hawkins to be able to return home, Buchanan said.
"He will come back for all of his court appearances," Buchanan said. "He can get back to teaching and his kids."
Buchanan said Hawkins will be better able to help with his defense outside of the Clark County Detention Center, where he has been since July 6.
"We look forward to seeing this thing through," Buchanan said.
According to police, the altercation took place about 12:40 a.m. July 5 on the casino floor at O’Sheas, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
A police report said Hawkins and Massie were inside the ground-floor restroom when Massie made a comment to Hawkins that Hawkins considered to be racial about “a black man in a yellow shirt.”
A surveillance video that captured their actions as they left the restroom showed Massie in front of the Burger King at O’Sheas with his hands in his pockets, saying something to Hawkins. Hawkins then said something to Massie, then turned his back as if to walk away, according to police.
“Hawkins then turned very quickly and threw a right-hand punch, striking Massie on his left cheek/jaw,” the report said. "Massie fell straight back onto his back/head at which time his hands came out of his pockets." In the video, Massie is not seen moving after the punch.
Police responded at 12:46 a.m. to a report of a person unconscious and not breathing. Massie was taken to Desert Springs Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:08 a.m. July 6.
Hawkins told police he told Massie to “shut up” and Massie asked him “what are you going to do about it?” Hawkins said he interpreted Massie’s actions as aggressive and was afraid that Massie would punch him in the back of the head if he turned around, so he punched Massie, according to police.
The Associated Press has reported that Hawkins' wife said he was defending himself when he threw the punch.
"It just looked like he wouldn't leave my husband alone," said Leticia Hawkins, 35, a banker from Gainesville, Fla. "My husband was defending himself."