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July 7, 2015

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Teacher to be arraigned next month in Strip casino punching death

Judge allows teacher, who lives in Florida, to make plea in abstentia

Image

Steve Marcus

Judge William Jansen, seated left, and Metro Police Homicide Detective Jeff Rosgen, seated right, watch a security video tape on a laptop during a preliminary hearing in District Court Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012. Standing are Deputy District Attorney Colleen Brown, defendant Benjamin Gerard Hawkins, and defense attorney Jack Buchanan. 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.

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 »

A Florida teacher facing an involuntary manslaughter charge for throwing a punch at a Utah man last summer at a Las Vegas Strip casino will have his next court date in May.

Benjamin Hawkins, 38, a teacher now in an administrative post at a school district in Gainsville, Fla., is scheduled to be formally arraigned at 9 a.m. May 15 in Clark County District Court.

Hawkins is accused of causing the death of John Massie, 46, during an altercation they had at 12:40 a.m. July 6 on the casino floor at O’Shea’s.

A video played during Hawkins’ preliminary hearing in February showed Massie coming out of a bathroom, stopping and putting his hands in his pockets.

Then it showed Hawkins coming out of the restroom, 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. Hawkins told police that Massie had bumped into him in the restroom, insulted him racially and then waited for him outside the bathroom, where they continued to have words before he turned around and hit Massie.

Hawkins’ 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.

After the punch, Massie 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.

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.

During a court hearing Monday for Hawkins, Arraignment Hearing Master Melisa De La Garza reset his arraignment before District Judge Abbi Silver, who has allowed him to make a written plea in abstentia. Hawkins is out of custody on his own recognizance.

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