A 21-year-old Pasadena man pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter Thursday for shoving a stranger who couldn't swim into the Inner Harbor in 2008 — an act previously characterized by one Baltimore judge as complete stupidity.
Wayne Black, who was 18 when he pushed 22-year-old Ankush Gupta into the water and ran, will be sentenced to four years in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for Aug. 30, per an agreement cut with Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock.
His mother dabbed tears from her eyes as the deal was done, while Gupta's friends and family sat stone-faced on the other side of the courtroom.
"That is not justice," Saneel John Masih said after the hearing. He and Rohit Gupta were longtime friends of Ankush, more like brothers than buddies, they said.
They were devastated by his death and disgusted by Black's deal, which the family was informed of shortly before it was struck. They were hoping for a murder conviction rather than manslaughter, and a prison term of at least 10 years.
A spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office said prosecutors pushed for a 10-year sentence, the maximum allowed for involuntary manslaughter, but that the judge reduced it to four years, based on sentencing guidelines.
"We, as a victim's family, have no authority whatsoever," said Rohit Gupta, who is not related to Ankush. Black "intentionally pushed [Ankush] into the water; it was a murder."
In late August 2008, on their way back from a day trip to New York City, Ankush and Rohit Gupta and several other friends had stopped at the Inner Harbor after midnight to stretch their legs. Ankush took a stroll by himself, then disappeared. His friends heard only a scream and a splash.
Rescue divers pulled Ankush's body from the water hours later. He had drowned.
His friends suspected that Ankush was pushed, though two years would pass before their suspicions were confirmed. A tipster told police in September that Black, a high school dropout who had been at the harbor that night skateboarding, was involved.
Prosecutor Charles Blomquist filled in the gaps Thursday during the plea hearing, quoting from a confession Black gave authorities.
"'I walked up, and I pushed him into the water,'" Black told police. "'I came up behind him and I pushed.'"
Added Blomquist: "The victim did not know how to swim."
Black's attorney, Howard Cardin, said his client has been choked with guilt and last year confided in a friend who alerted police.
"It's a tragedy, an absolute regrettable tragedy," Cardin said, adding that a judge previously called the prank "stupid." "Obviously, we're very apologetic to the family."
Black's mother said she would give anything to reverse the past.
Ankush Gupta's family said he was their best hope for the future.
At 22, he was the only child still living at home in Montgomery County with his parents, who emigrated from India when Ankush was 12. He cared for them, delivering medication to his disabled father, Anoop, and shared his dreams of being a NASA engineer with his mother.
Ankush was about to enter his junior year at the University of Maryland, College Park on an engineering scholarship when he was killed, his friends said. They described him as bright, selfless and hardworking.
"He wasn't doing all this for himself," Masih said. " He was just doing it for his mom and dad."
Ankush's mother, Meena Kumari Gupta, cried after the hearing. She held a photo of her son kneeling before a bed of orange and yellow tulips.
Her statement, which was translated into English, asked that Black be severely punished. She never got to read it in court.
"This man must learn from his mistakes," it said. "He has broken up a family who has nothing left in America. He killed our American dream and our son."