A Clark County jury on Friday found Benjamin Hawkins guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a man he punched last year at a Strip casino.
The Florida native, who is black, was arrested after the death of John Massie, a 46-year-old white man from Utah. Hawkins said he was defending himself when he struck Massie at O'Shea's casino July 6, 2011, after Massie made race-based comments.
Both men were in Las Vegas on vacation.
Hawkins, a 39-year-old high school teacher and football coach, could face probation or a one- to four-year prison term at a sentencing hearing set for Feb. 14 before Judge Valerie Adair.
After closing arguments by the lawyers, the jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before returning the guilty verdict.
Juror Memrie Williams said the key piece of evidence in the case was the video of the confrontation captured by casino security surveillance outside the bathroom.
But it wasn't the punch that drew the jurors' attention, Williams said.
The juror said it was whom Hawkins was looking at when he emerged from the casino food court restroom, where the confrontation between the two men began.
On Thursday, Hawkins testified that inside the bathroom Massie had made several comments to him about being "a black guy in a yellow shirt." Hawkins told the jury that Massie, who was drunk, had slapped him on the chest and shoulder. Hawkins said he felt threatened and scared by the comments about his race and the physical contact from Massie.
Hawkins told the jury that when he left the bathroom, he was walking toward his family at a nearby gaming table when Massie said, "Hey." Hawkins said he then went closer to Massie expecting him to apologize.
Williams said the video did not support that.
"When the defendant exited the bathroom, he was looking not at his family but was focused on the victim," Williams said. "He (Hawkins) had every intention of continuing the confrontation."
Williams said that negated the idea that Hawkins acted in self-defense.
"He (Hawkins) made a bad decision. It has nothing to do with his character," the juror said.
The inaudible video showed Massie and Hawkins exchanging words. As Hawkins walked away, Massie, with his hands in his pockets, took about three steps toward Hawkins' back. Hawkins turned swiftly and threw a right-handed punch that landed on the left side of Massie's face. The back of Massie's head slammed into the floor, causing his death.
After the verdict, defense attorney Jack Buchanan said, "On behalf of the family and Mr. Hawkins, obviously we're incredibly disappointed with the verdict."
Buchanan said he will ask Adair to sentence Hawkins to probation, adding it was too early to consider an appeal.
"He's not going to lose faith moving forward," Buchanan said.
Hawkins hung his head after the verdict while his family and friends who attended the trial cried in the rows behind him.
Massie's sister, Mary Vinup of Georgia, had tears streaming down her cheeks when she said her brother "was a good man. He was not a racist man."
She said she would pray for the Hawkins' family.
Prosecutor Jonathan Cooper said it was a tragic situation for both families.
"There isn't really a winner or a loser. Both families are going to be affected forever," he said.
After the verdict was read, prosecutor Maria Lavell did not seek to have Hawkins remanded into custody. Lavell said she had spoken with the victim's family members, and they wished that Hawkins be allowed to go home to Florida to be with his family.
Adair said he did not consider Hawkins a flight risk or a danger to the community and allowed him to remain free pending the sentencing hearing.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.