Man testifies in 1-punch Vegas Strip casino death

Published On: Nov 30 2012 11:37:11 AM EST
Updated On: Nov 30 2012 11:38:07 AM EST
LAS VEGAS -

A former Florida high school teacher and football coach testified Thursday that he felt threatened by a Utah man who he said made derogatory racial comments and touched him on the chest and arm three times before Hawkins knocked the man to the floor of a Las Vegas casino.

Benjamin Gerard Hawkins testified that John Massie appeared intoxicated when the two men exchanged words in a restroom, and that Massie wouldn't leave him alone until the single fatal punch on July 6, 2011, at O'Shea's Casino.

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

"After he touched me a second time, I told him to get the (expletive) away from me and don't touch me again," Hawkins told the jury hearing his involuntary manslaughter trial. "He slaps me on the shoulder and says, 'You'll be all right.'"

"I told him, 'If you touch me again, I'll knock you the (expletive) out," Hawkins said.

Hawkins, a 39-year-old black man from Gainesville, Fla., went in Las Vegas for vacation with his wife and friends. He told police he was defending himself from a man he believed was threatening him.

"Where I come from, you have the ability to defend yourself if someone is going to hurt you," he said.

Massie, 38, was white, a divorced father who lived in Roy, Utah. He worked as an occupational safety and health worker at Hill Air Force Base. A black co-worker, David Battle, testified Thursday that he never heard Massie make a racial comment or joke.

The jury was told that a toxicology report found Massie had a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.172, or more than twice the legal limit for driving in Nevada.

Police who interviewed Hawkins didn't ask him to submit to a blood-alcohol test, but Hawkins testified he had several vodka and orange juice drinks after he and his group arrived the previous morning in Las Vegas.

Hawkins told jurors that Massie started the encounter in the men's room with an unsolicited comment about "black guys and these yellow shirts."

"All I was doing was washing my hands and he was making racial statements to me," said Hawkins, who was wearing a bright yellow polo shirt. "My alert level was through the roof."

The two men exchanged several more words before Massie exited the men's room first. Hawkins said Massie called to him again as Hawkins walked past.

"He said, 'I got something for your ass,'" Hawkins testified, "like he had intentions that he was going to strike me."

Hawkins said he felt he couldn't risk turning his back on Massie, and casino surveillance video shows the two men a few feet apart before Hawkins turns and throws the punch. Massie's hands were in his pockets.

Hawkins remained in the scene after the punch, apparently talking to his wife and friends before security arrives and paramedics and police are called.

Las Vegas police Det. Jeff Rosgen testified that he thought the case could fall anywhere between self-defense and murder.

Prosecutor Maria Lavell noted discrepancies and inconsistencies between Hawkins' accounts to police hours after the incident and the detailed accounts Hawkins provided to the jury on Thursday. Rosgen said Hawkins never specified the racial taunts or what made him feel threatened.

Hawkins said Thursday that he was emotionally wrought at the time and had little more than a nap after traveling cross-country that day.

Hawkins could face probation or up to four years in prison depending on the outcome of the case.

He has been on administrative duties at Bradford County High School in Starke, Fla., pending the outcome of the Las Vegas case.

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