Ex-coach gets 3 months for one-punch death of Roy man in Vegas casino

Feb 15 2013 - 12:43am

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FILE - This Feb. 28, 2012 file photo shows Benjamin Gerard Hawkins during a preliminary hearing in District Court in Las Vegas.  Hawkins is due for sentencing Thursday Feb. 14,2013 in Las Vegas following his November conviction in the death of 46-year-old John Massie. The former high school football coach and teacher from Gainesville, Fla., could face prison time for involuntary manslaughter in the one-punch death of a Utah man at a Las Vegas casino. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Sun, Steve Marcus, File)
FILE - This Feb. 28, 2012 file photo shows Benjamin Gerard Hawkins during a preliminary hearing in District Court in Las Vegas.  Hawkins is due for sentencing Thursday Feb. 14,2013 in Las Vegas following his November conviction in the death of 46-year-old John Massie. The former high school football coach and teacher from Gainesville, Fla., could face prison time for involuntary manslaughter in the one-punch death of a Utah man at a Las Vegas casino. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Sun, Steve Marcus, File)

LAS VEGAS -- A former high school football coach and teacher from Florida was sentenced to three months in jail and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine Thursday after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the one-punch death of a Utah man at a Las Vegas casino.

Defense attorney Jack Buchanan said he didn't believe a punitive stint in the Clark County Detention Center was appropriate for his client, 39-year-old Benjamin Gerard Hawkins, of Gainesville.

Hawkins has remained free following his November conviction in the death of 46-year-old John Massie, an occupational safety and health worker at Hill Air Force Base.

Clark County District Court Judge Valerie Adair also ordered Hawkins to serve five years of probation, undergo impulse-control and anger management counseling, and abstain from alcohol.

"We're just as disappointed in this as we were the verdict," said Buchanan, who had sought only probation for his client.

"He has no family members here, so he'll be here to serve that punishment and then head back. So obviously it's very difficult," he added later.

Hawkins didn't mean to kill Massie, of Roy, and the felony conviction ruined his coaching and teaching career at Bradford County High School in Starke, Fla., Buchanan said.

Prosecutor Maria Lavell had sought a sentence of one to four years in prison.

The judge initially sentenced Hawkins to between one and two years in the Nevada Department of Corrections but immediately suspended the sentence in favor of probation.

Evidence at trial showed both men had been drinking before the confrontation. Hawkins is black, and Massie was white.

Hawkins testified that Massie started an encounter in a restroom with an unsolicited comment about "black guys and these yellow shirts."

Hawkins told jurors that Massie derided him with racial comments and tapped him on the shoulder and chest in the restroom at O'Shea's Casino in July 2011, then approached him again after they walked separately to the gaming floor.

Hawkins said he thought Massie was threatening him.

Security video showed the two men a few feet apart as they emerged from the men's room before Hawkins began to walk away. Massie's hands were in his pockets as Hawkins then turned suddenly and threw the punch.

A medical examiner testified that Massie died after his head hit the floor.

Hawkins remained in the footage after the punch, apparently talking to his wife and friends before security, paramedics and police arrived.

Police said Hawkins had not been specific about racial taunts or what made him feel threatened. The lead investigator testified that he thought the case could fall anywhere between self-defense and murder.

Several Massie family members spoke during sentencing and said Hawkins did not appear remorseful.

After the trial, weeping family members comforted each other and reassured each other that their testimony had not been in vain.

In issuing her sentence, the judge chastised Hawkins for misconstruing Massie's actions and reacting in the wrong way.

"He could have avoided this," Adair said of Hawkins. "He overreacted, and it's just a horrible tragedy."

Hawkins remained impassive as the sentence was read, and bowed his head as he was handcuffed and led away.

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