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July 7, 2015

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Man guilty of involuntary manslaughter in one-punch death

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Steve Marcus

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.

Updated Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 | 2:28 p.m.

Map of O'Sheas

O'Sheas

3555 Las Vegas Blvd South, Las Vegas

A jury today found Benjamin Hawkins guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a tourist who died after Hawkins punched him at a Las Vegas casino.

Hawkins, 39, bowed his head and his wife cried softly in the public seating area as the verdict was read Friday afternoon in Clark County District Court. Hawkins will be sentenced Feb. 14.

Jack Buchanan, Hawkins' defense attorney, said Hawkins intends to seek probation. The felony charge carries a maximum prison sentence of four years, but defendants can be given probation at the discretion of the court, Buchanan said.

"Obviously, we're incredibly disappointed with the verdict," Buchanan said, speaking on behalf of the Hawkins family.

Mary Vinup, the sister of the victim, John Massie, said the family will continue to pray for the Hawkins family, because the incident affected both families, especially the children.

"He was a good man," Vinup said of her brother. "He was not a racist man. He loved life."

The incident happened July 6, 2011, after Hawkins, and Massie, 46, a Utah resident visiting Las Vegas, exchanged words in the restroom at O’Sheas on the Strip.

According to a Metro Police arrest report, Massie made a comment about Hawkins being a black man wearing a yellow shirt. They had a verbal exchange and the confrontation continued after they exited the restroom, the report said.

The defense asserted Hawkins acted in self-defense when he threw a single punch that landed Massie flat on his back.

Gary Telgenoff, a forensic pathologist with the Clark County Coroner’s Office, testified earlier this week that Massie died from blunt-force trauma caused by his head hitting the floor, not the punch itself.

The prosecution, however, argued Hawkins was the aggressor and delivered what they called a “sucker punch” to Massie.

Two prosecution witnesses testified that Massie, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.172 at the time, was in a “jovial” or “happy-go-lucky” mood when he encountered Hawkins in the restroom.

During closing arguments, defense attorney Jack Buchanan told the jurors to consider Hawkins’ testimony, during which he described telling Massie to leave him alone several times.

Hawkins also testified Thursday that in the seconds before the punch, Massie told him, “I’ve got something for your (expletive).”

“This is a man who was threatened,” Buchanan said. “He was threatened and pushed to the brink...It’s about fear.”

Prosecutors Maria Lavell and Jonathan Cooper argued that Hawkins’ anger over perceived racial insults led to the punch.

They said Hawkins, who also had consumed several alcoholic drinks that night, followed through on a threat he made to Massie in the restroom — that he would “knock him the (expletive) out.”

“You did not hear from John Massie,” Lavell told the jurors. “He left Las Vegas in a coffin because the defendant was pissed off.”

The trial opened Tuesday and included testimony from several eyewitnesses. The jury also viewed footage taken from a surveillance video inside O’Sheas, which shows the events that transpired outside the restroom, including the punch.

Hawkins has been out of custody on his own recognizance. Hawkins worked as a teacher and football coach in the Gainesville, Fla., area at the time of the incident.

Massie, a former Air Force member, worked as a civilian at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. He had three children.

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