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Defendant testifies Utahn's remarks led to fatal blow
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

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 he 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 to Las Vegas for vacation with his wife and friends.

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.

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 shirt.

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

Courts • Former Florida coach says he felt threatened during encounter at Vegas casino.
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