A 37-year-old Pittsburgh man appeared Wednesday in District Court for a preliminary hearing on a charge of manslaughter stemming from an altercation at a Kailua-Kona vacation rental that resulted in the death of his roommate.
Benjamin Fleming was arrested March 29 after Hawaii Police Department officers were called to the Kona Mansions Condominiums for an unconscious man who was not breathing. Medics, who were already on the scene, determined that the victim, identified as 30-year-old Abhishek Gupta, also of Pittsburgh, was already deceased.
Alexander Germany-Wald of Montclair, New Jersey, the third roommate took the stand to relay his version of events that lead to the death of Gupta in the Kailua-Kona vacation rental.
Germany-Wald said the trio, who all were friends since attending college at Carnegie Mellon University, arrived on the Big Island on March 28. Their first stop was at Costco, where they stocked up on liquor and food including two cases of beer two bottles of wine and one each 1.75 liter bottles of light rum, dark rum and bourbon. They all started drinking at the AirBnB, consuming “several bottles of beer and mai tais until they decided to go to dinner.”
While waiting for their table at Huggo’s, they had some more drinks at Humpy’s where Germany-Walls said Gupta became increasingly drunk. He testified that he told their server at dinner not to serve Gupta, but he was served several drinks while there. After dinner, the trio proceeded Sam’s Hideaway and finally to a bar in the Coconut Grove Marketplace.
Germany-Wald testified that he decided to take Gupta home because he drank too much, was becoming belligerent and was asked to leave the last establishment, though his statement to the last bar’s name conflicted with police testimony. Fleming stayed behind.
Upon returning to the rental, Germany-Wald said Gupta was berating him, so he locked himself in a bedroom until Fleming came back. When he heard Fleming return and Gupta harassing him, he emerged from the bedroom.
“Mr. Gupta approached me and a short fistfight ensued and we exchanged punches. He hit me several times in the face and knocked me off balance. Then he was on top of me and kept punching me in the face,” Germany-Wald told the court.
He said Fleming came to his aid, and prevented Gupta from punching him further by puting him in a restraining hold.
“The next thing I saw was Mr. Fleming lowering Mr. Gupta to the floor, saying ‘down you go’” he said. “Mr. Gupta was placed delicately to the floor. I rose to my feet to attend to my injuries.”
He said with Gupta laying in the hallway floor, 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.
“When I checked on Mr. Gupta I noticed he had wet himself and his lips were blue and he didn’t appear to be breathing,” he said. “We moved him to the bedroom to perform CPR.”
“I knew Gupta was psychotically drunk and didn’t know what he was doing. I knew I was in grave danger,” Germany-Wald testified.
When asked if he ever told detectives he was in fear for his life by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chase Murray, Germany-Wald replied “I would like to consult with my attorney.”
Dr. Matrina Schmidt, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Gupta,testified that the cause of death was strangulation and the manor of death was homicide.
The first police officers on the scene took the stand last Wednesday, stating that when Fleming provided a statement, he said the affray between Germany-Wald was mutual with both throwing punches. He continued by telling officers that it was Germany-Wald that knocked Gupta to the ground. Fleming allegedly told another officer he was in the bathroom when the fight started, he didn’t see the fight and when he emerged from the bathroom Gupta was on the floor and Germany-Wald was on top of him. Based on Fleming’s statement, Germany-Wald was placed under arrest.
Germany-Wald said he did not make a statement to police at that time because he didn’t want to talk about it.
Later at the police station, Fleming told detectives he saw Gupta punching Germany-Wald about two times when he intervened, that Gupta fell to the floor and “might have hit his head.”
However, detectives saw a text conversation on Fleming’s phone with an unknown person that said “I just choked my friend and he’s making weird noises on the floor.”
The case is slated to pick up Thursday afternoon with a Hawaii Police Department detective taking the stand.