A jury in Honolulu reached a not guilty verdict on July 11 in the manslaughter trial of 39-year-old Pittsburgh resident Benjamin Fleming who was charged last year in the death of his college classmate and Deloitte Consulting employee Abhishek Gupta while the two vacationed with another friend in Hawaii.
“I emphasized throughout the trial that Mr. Gupta’s death was undoubtedly a tragedy, but it was not a crime. Thankfully, the jury agreed, and we appreciate their service,” Fleming’s attorney, Thomas Otake, said in an email to the Associated Press. “While Ben and I are surely relieved, we remain mindful of the loss experienced by the Gupta family.”
Fleming, Gupta, and their friend Alexander Germany-Wald—all three in the same MBA graduating class of 2020 at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh—traveled to Hawaii in late March 2021 to celebrate their graduation and rented an Airbnb in Kailua-Kona.
After a heavy night of drinking on March 28, Germany-Wald and Gupta left a bar after Gupta was reportedly told to leave and walked back to the vacation home. Fleming stayed behind. During a preliminary hearing on April 9, 2021, Germany-Wald, who also works for Deloitte Consulting in Boston, testified that Gupta got “psychotically” drunk on that first night of their vacation.
At one point that evening, the two of them got into a fistfight, with Gupta on top of Germany-Wald and punching him, Germany-Wald testified at the hearing. Fleming reportedly returned to the home as the physical confrontation was occurring. Fleming, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, put Gupta in a chokehold from behind to restrain him, an action Big Island Deputy Prosecutor Chase Murray called “reckless” during the trial, according to Hawaii News Now.
But Otake argued that Gupta, 30, was still breathing after Fleming released him and had fallen asleep:
“He starts snoring. They hear snoring,” said attorney Thomas Otake.
Otake said Fleming, an Army veteran with war experience, learned to use the hold in the military to restrain someone not kill them. He hinted that Gupta’s choking was caused by something else.
“As Alex goes down and starts giving CPR … vomit comes out of Mr. Gupta. It will be undisputed that he vomited when he was lying there on the ground,” said Otake.
Otake added that Gupta and Fleming were the “closest of friends.”
It was reported that Fleming called 911 after Gupta stopped breathing. Fleming was arrested and charged with manslaughter on March 30. An autopsy revealed that Gupta died by strangulation.