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Visitor Accused of Manslaughter Seeks to Return to Mainland

By Tiffany DeMasters
April 16, 2021, 7:52 AM HST
* Updated April 16, 7:53 AM
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A Pennsylvania man accused of manslaughter is seeking to reduce bail and return home to the continental US.

Benjamin Fleming pleaded not guilty in 3rd Circuit Thursday, April 15, after his arrest for allegedly strangling his vacation rental roommate. During Thursday’s hearing, Judge Robert DS Kim maintained conditions of bail that required the 37-year-old not to leave the island without first seeking approval from the court.

A jury trial has been scheduled for Aug. 3, 2021. Fleming is currently staying in South Kona.

Fleming’s lawyer, Christopher J. Eggert has now requested a bail hearing, which has been scheduled for April 21.

According to court documents filed with the court, Eggert notes Fleming is an active member of the Indiana National Guard with no prior felony, misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor appearances. Eggert is seeking a reduction in bail from $250,000 to $100,000.

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On April 12, Fleming bailed out of Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center with A-1 Bonds, with his parents posting $25,000 to the surety. Eggert said it was his understanding that this is a substantial hardship to Fleming and his family, adding the 37-year-old can only afford to post $10,000 to the surety.

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“The amount currently imposed is excessive and fails to consider the Defendant’s financial circumstances,” Eggert stated in his filing.

According to the filing, Eggert spoke to Fleming’s commanding officer and with the battalion’s Judge Advocate General officer.

“I am informed and of the belief that Defendant can still serve his obligation to the military while this matter is pending, and that the Service desires his presence on the US Mainland and has ready mechanisms available to both encourage and to ensure Defendant is made available to return to Hawai‘i for required in-person court appearances,” Eggert stated.

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Fleming’s attorney included 19 letters from friends, family members and colleagues attesting to the 37-year-old’s character, with one from Master Sergeant Calvin Lawson, senior Non-Commissioned Officer on Operation Detachment Alpha (ODA).

Lawson wrote he has known Staff Sergeant Fleming since 2018 when he was assigned as a Special Forces Communication Sergeant on ODA and has been Fleming’s Team Sergeant for the last two years.

“In my time knowing SSG Fleming, he has never missed any type of military formations or report times,” Lawson stated. “In most of those cases, he comes a day early to ensure he is there on time.”

As the detachment’s Team Sergeant, Lawson wrote, Fleming is his go-to soldier to accomplish the mission, adding he’s been one of his most dependable soldiers during his time as a Non-Commissioned Officer.

“SSG Fleming has always shown sound judgment in everything he does,” Lawson wrote. “He is a trustworthy individual that has a high moral charter. In my military career of 18 years, I have met few Soldiers that are as reliable and dependent as SSG Fleming.”

Fleming, Lawson added, is a great human being and in no way poses a safety concern to the public and has no doubt he will attend all requirements mandated by the court.

Hawai‘i County Prosecutor’s Office has not yet responded to Eggert’s filing, but plan to do so.

Fleming is accused of strangling to death his vacation rental roommate, Abhishik Gupta, during a fight that took place on March 29 in Kailua-Kona.

According to Hawai‘i Police Department, the altercation between Fleming and Gupta occurred in the early morning hours at a property on Walua Road.

Police reported that Fleming dialed 911 that morning and told responders that Gupta had passed out after drinking too much alcohol. However, an investigation led officers to the conclusion that Gupta died as the result of a physical fight.

An autopsy later determined that the cause of Gupta’s death was strangulation.

Fleming is facing a class A felony offense which carries a punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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