Fla. ex-coach gets jail time in Vegas casino death
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 11:48 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.
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 in Utah.
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 later added.
Hawkins didn't mean to kill Massie, 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 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.
As they emerged from the men's room, security video showed the two men a few feet apart 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 trail, 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. "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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