Pittsburgh man may leave Big Island before manslaughter trial

  • FLEMING

A 37-year-old active duty Army soldier charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of a fellow visitor from Pittsburgh was granted permission to leave the state.

Benjamin Fleming of Pittsburgh appeared Wednesday in Kona Circuit Court on a defense motion to reduce bail and return to the mainland pending trial for the March 29 death of Abhishek Gupta, 30, also of Pittsburgh.

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Fleming, who has been free since posting $250,000 bail, requested through his attorney, Christopher Eggert, a reduction in bail to $100,000. Eggert argued his client could only afford a $100,000 bail because his mother posted half of the bail through a bail bonds company that gave her 45 days to come up with the rest of the money.

“Either he posted the bail or he didn’t,” said Judge Robert D.S. Kim.

Eggert said he was concerned that if the full bond is not posted, it could be pulled and Fleming would have to return.

“That is not a concern of the court,” said Kim.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chase Murray argued the bond has been posted.

“That is the only thing relevant at this juncture,” he said, adding $250,000 is an appropriate amount for the charge.

Kim denied the motion to reduce bail and entertained the motion for Fleming to leave the state.

The state had no objection to Fleming leaving before his trial.

Kim granted that motion with the conditions that Fleming sign a waiver of extradition, surrender his passport, appear in person for all of his hearings and not leave the country without the court’s permission. When the condition of not owning or possessing a firearm was read, there was discussion of Fleming using a firearm in the course of his Army training. Kim acquiesced, and ordered him not to possess a personal firearm.

“He needs to come back for his hearings. If he doesn’t show up, I will order a bench warrant with no bail,” said Kim.

After the hearing, Murray said the state had no objection to Fleming leaving because he had training scheduled with the Army and had the assurance of Fleming’s commanding officer that he would return to Hawaii for all court dates.

Fleming was arrested March 29 after Hawaii Police Department officers were called to a vacation rental at the Kona Mansions Condominiums for an unconscious man who was not breathing following an altercation with his roommates. Medics, who were already on the scene, determined that the victim, identified as Gupta, was already deceased.

A second man arrested at the scene, a 31-year-old New Jersey man, Alexander Germany-Wald, was released without charges.

During a preliminary hearing earlier this month, Germany-Wald testified that the three college friends arrived on the Big Island on March 28. He said Gupta got “psychotically” drunk and he walked him back to their Kailua-Kona Airbnb after Gupta was asked to leave a bar. Fleming stayed behind.

Germany-Wald said he locked himself in a bedroom to seclude himself from Gupta, who was angry about having to go back to the condo.

At one point, the two got into a fistfight, with Gupta on top of Germany-Wald and punching him. Fleming returned to the condo and “came to my aid and restrained Mr. Gupta,” Germany-Wald said during the hearing.

With Gupta laying on the hallway floor, Germany-Wald said Fleming joined him in the kitchen where they drank a beer. He testified that he could hear Gupta “snoring” in the hallway. They checked on Gupta after several minutes because they no longer heard him snoring and realized he wasn’t breathing. Fleming called 911.

An autopsy performed found the cause of death to be strangulation and manner of death to be homicide.

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Manslaughter is a Class A felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.