LAS VEGAS -- A former Florida high school football coach will stand trial in Nevada on an involuntary manslaughter charge in the one-punch death of a man after racial insults in a Las Vegas Strip casino restroom, a judge decided Tuesday.
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace William Jansen said it was up to a jury to determine if Benjamin Gerard Hawkins was defending himself when he struck John Massie, of Roy, early July 6 at O'Shea's Las Vegas Casino. He could face probation or up to four years in prison if convicted.
Police said witnesses heard Massie say he noticed "a black man in a yellow shirt" while both men were in the casino's restroom. Hawkins, 38, was the only black man in the restroom. Massie, 46, was white.
Casino security guard Oscar Velasquez testified Tuesday that Hawkins told him that Massie used a black racial epithet and continued to deride him as the two men exited the restroom separately.
Las Vegas police Detective Jeff Rosgen testified that Hawkins told him that Massie made derogatory racial comments and that he felt threatened when Massie waited outside the restroom and approached him moments later on the casino floor.
"Mr. Hawkins said that while he was in the bathroom, this gentleman bumped or touched him," Rosgen said. "He made some racial comments and he was aggressive toward Mr. Hawkins -- 'black guy this and black guy that."'
"He believed Mr. Massie was going to strike him and hurt in some way, so he hit him," Rosgen said. "He said he was afraid to turn his back -- that Mr. Massie was going to strike him in the back of the head."
Hawkins' lawyer, Jack Buchanan, argued Tuesday that the Gainesville, Fla., resident was defending himself, his wife and two friends at the blackjack table several steps away.
A silent casino surveillance video showed the two men appearing to speak, with Massie's hands in his pockets. Hawkins then turned and took two or three steps toward his wife and another couple at the blackjack table. Massie took two steps toward Hawkins, who wheeled around and threw the punch.
Massie fell hard backward, and was left motionless with his hands splayed to the sides. He was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly afterward. A Clark County medical examiner testified Tuesday that Massie died of severe brain injuries.
Rosgen characterized the blow as a "sucker punch."
But Buchanan said the video showed Hawkins "had a reasonable belief that he was going to suffer great bodily injury" when he hit Massie once in the jaw. It also showed Hawkins standing and waiting for security and police to arrive.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Hawkins was initially charged with murder, but the charge was reduced earlier this month. The judge on Tuesday eliminated Hawkins' $50,000 bail and set arraignment for April 23.
Outside the courtroom, Hawkins said he was removed from his role as a teacher and assistant football coach at Bradford County High School in Starke, Fla., and assigned administrative tasks pending the outcome of the case.