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Suspect in deadly vacation rental fight pleads not guilty

A 37-year-old Pittsburgh man charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of a fellow visitor from Pittsburgh pleaded not guilty Thursday in Kona Circuit Court.

Benjamin Fleming was released from Hawaii Community Correctional Center on Monday after posting $250,000 bail. He is currently residing at a bed and breakfast in Captain Cook. As a condition of his bail, Fleming is not to leave the island, unless granted permission by the court.

Fleming’s defense attorney, Christopher Eggert, requested bail be reduced to $100,000 and his client be permitted to return to the mainland. A bail hearing is set for Wednesday.

According to the website Poets and Quants, Fleming went to Tepper School of Business in 2018 from the U.S. Army where he had served as a communications specialist. All told, he has spent nearly 19 years in the Army, including a stint as a platoon leader of 24 soldiers that he led through training and more than 300 operations in Afghanistan. Fleming’s LinkedIn profile said he was working an internship with a spaceflight professional association based in St. Petersburg, Fla., since June. Carnegie Mellon profiled Fleming in November as a an example of how the school helps veteran students, but the article has been removed from the school’s website.

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 30-year-old Abhishek Gupta of Pittsburgh, was already deceased.

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

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

During a two-day preliminary hearing last week, the New Jersey man testified that the three college friends arrived on the Big Island on March 28. Alexander Germany-Wald said Gupta had gotten “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 of them 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 preliminary hearing.

With Gupta laying in 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.

A jury trial is set for Aug. 3.

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

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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