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April 20, 2014

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Teacher to stand trial in punching death at Strip casino

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Steve Marcus

Benjamin Gerard Hawkins listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing in District Court Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012. Hawkins, a Gainesville, Fla., teacher who was on vacation, is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of another tourist after an altercation at O’Sheas in July.

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 | 2:49 p.m.

Teacher Faces Manslaughter Charges

Benjamin Gerard Hawkins, center, confers with attorneys James Kelly, left, and Jack Buchanan during a preliminary hearing in District Court Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012. Hawkins, a Gainesville, Fla., teacher who was on vacation, is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of another tourist after an altercation at O'Sheas in July. Launch slideshow »

Benjamin Hawkins says it was self defense. But he will stand trial for involuntary manslaughter for punching a man who then fell, hit his head and died last summer in a Las Vegas Strip casino.

Following a preliminary hearing today in Las Vegas Justice Court, Judge William Jansen said there was enough evidence to bind Benjamin Hawkins, 38, over to District Court in the death of John Massie.

Hawkins is a former teacher who is now employed in an administrative position at a school district in Gainsville, Fla. He had been out of custody on $25,000 bail but the judge has now released him on his own recognizance.

Hawkins' tentative arraignment date was set for April 23 in Clark County District Court.

Hawkins had an altercation with Massie, a 46-year-old Utah man, at 12:40 a.m. July 6 on the casino floor at O'Sheas, authorities said.

Hawkins reportedly said he was defending himself and his family from Massie, who he said bumped into him in a restroom, insulted him racially and continued to be aggressive toward him.

Hawkins told police that he feared for himself and his family as he came out of the restroom and Massie and he had words, then Massie started coming up behind him.

A video played during the preliminary hearing showed Hawkins spinning around and punching Massie in the left side of his face. Massie went down and didn't get up.

Massie was taken to Desert Springs Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:08 a.m. July 6.

The coroner said the cause of death was not the punch, but an injury to Massey's brain when the back of his head hit the floor.

There are two versions of what Hawkins told authorities after the incident.

According to Oscar Velasquez, a security guard who was on the scene first, Hawkins told him that Massie had insulted him with the "N" word inside the bathroom and that Massie followed him outside and continued saying things to him, so Hawkins turned around and punched him.

However, Jeff Rosgen, a Metro homicide detective, said when he interviewed Hawkins, Hawkins said that Massie called him a black man but didn’t use the "N" word.

Rosgen said that Hawkins told him that Massie had bumped or touched him, then put his hands up in the air and made a comment about “a black man in a yellow shirt” that Hawkins considered to be racial and aggressive.

During Rosgen’s testimony, a video of the punching incident was shown on the prosecutor’s computer screen.

The judge, the attorneys, the defendant and members of the media, gathered around the prosecutor’s desk to watch the video. It showed Massie coming out of the restroom, stopping and putting his hands in his pockets.

Then it showed Hawkins coming out and walking past Massie, the two having words, then Hawkins taking a few steps over to his friend and his wife, who were at a blackjack table about five feet away.

Massie then took three steps, coming up behind Hawkins when Hawkins spun around and punched him.

Hawkin's attorney, Jack Buchanan, told the judge there was no battery because the video showed Hawkins was defending himself from what he saw as aggressive behavior by an intoxicated man.

However, Chief Deputy District Attorney Maria Lavell told the judge that the state had shown there was evidence of a punch being thrown and the coroner saying the death was a result of the effects of the punch.

After the judge ruled the case should go to District Court, Buchanan told reporters that Hawkins will continue to claim self defense, and his case will be ultimately decided by a jury.

Buchanan said he intended to call numerous witnesses when the case goes to trial.

Prosecutors had originally charged Hawkins with open murder, but earlier this month, at the request of defense attorneys, they agreed to reduce the charges to involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is a category D felony, which carries a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 4 years, according to state statute.

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  1. TomD

    It is hard to say a reaction was not warranted. Here, the article describes the video - Hawkings had retreated with his wife and friend to or near a black jack table. Massie then took three steps toward Hawkings - a reasonable person could assume that an intoxicated man, under these circumstances with the encounter in the bathroom, was about to cause Hawkings harm.

    Nonetheless, it is still questionable to what degree if any Massie created a sense of fear in Hawkings such that he felt obliged to respond with physical force.

  2. Hands in the pockets? And what is inside, a knife? It takes a split second to pull out a knife and stick it in someone's back.

    Restrooms aren't the place for any normal discussion. Threatening talk in a restroom is an out of control personality. How does one 'call security' in the restroom? That's a laugh.

    Massie created fear before they walked into the casino and began an attack from behind. No one with good intent on their mind would run up behind someone they just threatened. With only a second to decide, there is no time left for stately analysis.

    I've had bums start yelling, then start running at me. At a few steps away, the only instinct would be to stop them cold. That's why I now carry a bat in the front seat, for the wild dogs that come out of no where. I want them to think before they come any closer. If thinking doesn't occur, I have the right to defend myself.

  3. Were there any witness's to the alleged altercation in the restroom we are assuming that there was one, It might be the only altercation was at the tables, And Did Mr. Hawkins follow Mr. Massie into the restroom.

  4. toast? He's wearing such a nice scarf (in doors, in court). How could anyone apply guilt to such a sharply dressed defendant.

  5. "Massie then took three steps, coming up behind Hawkins when Hawkins spun around and punched him" Just based on what I read in this article, Massie approached him from the rear. How would Hawkins know that Massie was there if Massie wasn't making it obvious that he was behind Hawkins in a threatening way? What does Hawkins have eyes in the back of his head?

    Sorry to hear that Massie died, but to hold Hawkins on any charge but self defense, sounds to me like the over zealousness of a district attorney.

    The judge should dismiss this case.

  6. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Goes something like that. If he didn't sucker punch him, I might believe him. If you feel threatened by someone, you do not turn your back to them unless your going to run from them.