LAS VEGAS -- A Nevada judge accepted a written not guilty plea on Tuesday for an absent Gainesville, Fla., man and scheduled his felony involuntary manslaughter trial in November in a case stemming from the one-punch death of a Utah man after racial insults in a Las Vegas Strip casino restroom.
Clark County District Court Judge Abbi Silver let Benjamin Gerard Hawkins' attorney, Jack Buchanan, stand in for Hawkins during Tuesday's arraignment on a charge that could get the former Florida high school teacher and football coach probation or up to four years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
Buchanan told the judge that Hawkins has cooperated with authorities since the encounter that left John Massie, of Roy, dead early last July 6.
Hawkins told a casino security guard and police that he was defending himself after Massie made a derogatory comment about "a black man in a yellow shirt" in a
restroom at O'Shea's Las Vegas Casino.
Hawkins, 38, was the only black man in the restroom. Massie, 46, was white.
A silent casino surveillance video shown during a February evidence hearing showed the two men appearing to speak, with Massie's hands in his pockets, and Massie following for a couple of steps after Hawkins turned his back and began walking toward his wife and another couple at a nearby blackjack table.
That was when Hawkins wheeled around and punched Massie once in the face.
Massie fell hard backward and remained motionless, with his hands splayed to the sides.
He was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later. The Clark County coroner determined the 5-foot-10, 251-pound Massie died of severe brain injuries.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Hawkins was initially charged with murder, but the charge was reduced before the February hearing.
A Las Vegas judge said it should be up to a jury to determine whether the case was self-defense.
Buchanan told Silver on Tuesday that frequent flights cross-country for court appearances have drained Hawkins' resources.
The judge scheduled a trial for Nov 26.
Hawkins said in February that 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.