Maryland stock trader’s manslaughter conviction for fiery death of tunnel worker upheld

A millionaire stock trader’s manslaughter conviction for the death of a man who helped him dig tunnels under his home for nuclear bunkers was upheld Friday by Maryland’s highest court.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled there was sufficient evidence to support Daniel Beckwitt’s conviction in the September 2017 death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra.

Khafra had been found burned beyond recognition under Beckwitt’s home in Bethesda after a fire broke out above the tunnels where he later died from smoke inhalation and injuries sustained by heat.

Beckwitt’s failure to provide Khafra with a reasonably safe workplace in the tunnels amounted to gross negligence, the appeals court said.

“Beckwitt’s conduct was likely to harm Khafra at any time and a normally prudent person in similar circumstances would have been aware of the risk to Khafra,” the court’s 76-page opinion reads.

He was sentenced in 2019 to nine years in prison after a jury found him guilty of “depraved heart” second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The Special Court of Appeal ruled in January 2021 that there was sufficient evidence to support the manslaughter conviction, but a three-judge panel overturned Beckwitt’s murder conviction.

The Court of Appeal said in its decision that while his actions showed “a wanton and reckless disregard for human life”, it was not the kind of conduct that was likely to have caused death and therefore did not demonstrate “extreme indifference to human life”. the value of human life.

Beckwitt will have to be re-sentenced now that the Court of Appeal has thrown out the murder conviction. He has been imprisoned since his conviction in April 2019.

Daniel Beckwitt, a millionaire stock trader from Maryland, upheld his manslaughter conviction in court on Friday for the fiery death of a young man who was helping him dig tunnels for a nuclear bunker under his Bethesda home.

Askia Khafra, 21, was burned beyond recognition following a fire that broke out above the tunnels in September 2017

Askia Khafra, 21, was burned beyond recognition following a fire that broke out above the tunnels in September 2017

Khafra died from smoke inhalation and heat injuries he sustained on September 10

Khafra died from smoke inhalation and heat injuries he sustained on September 10

Khafra’s father, Dia, said the state High Court ruling was “illustrative of a flawed justice system” and believes Beckwitt’s nine-year prison sentence was already too lenient.

“As a father who lost his son at the tender age of 21 in the most horrific way, I am very, very disappointed,” Khafra added.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Beckwitt faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.

McCarthy said his office would seek that maximum sentence “to hold the defendant accountable for his blatant disregard for (Khafra’s) life.”

Megan Coleman, one of Beckwitt’s attorneys, said the sentencing guidelines were significantly lower for manslaughter than for a murder conviction.

“Both appeals courts have said there was no malice in this case,” Coleman said. “For us, that would justify a lighter sentence.”

Khafra worked in the tunnels for days at a time, eating and sleeping there and urinating and defecating into a bucket that Beckwitt lowered to him.

Khafa's father, Dia, said the recent court decision was

Khafa’s father, Dia, said the recent court ruling was “illustrative of a flawed justice system” and said Beckwitt’s original nine-year sentence was already considered too lenient.

Khafra was burned beyond recognition in the Beckwitt home fire in Bethesda, a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.

Firefighters found Khafra’s naked, charred body in the trash-filled basement of the house.

Prosecutors said the extreme hoarding conditions in the house prevented him from escaping.

At trial, Montgomery County District Attorney Marybeth Ayres said Beckwitt sacrificed security to secrecy and created the “death trap” conditions that prevented Khafra from escaping the house.

Defense attorney Robert Bonsib told jurors the fire was an accident, not a crime.

The lawyer said Beckwitt screamed for help from neighbors after the fire broke out and risked his own safety in an unsuccessful attempt to save his friend.

Khafra met Beckwitt who had invested money in a business he was trying to start while helping the stock trader dig the tunnel network.

Beckwitt is seen posing in the secret bunker and network of tunnels under his home that he started building in fear of North Korea's nuclear attacks

Beckwitt is seen posing in the secret bunker and network of tunnels under his home that he started building in fear of North Korea’s nuclear attacks

Firefighters found Khafra's naked, charred body in the trash-filled basement of the house

Firefighters found Khafra’s naked, charred body in the trash-filled basement of the house

Prosecutors said the extreme hoarding conditions in the house prevented him from escaping

Prosecutors said the extreme hoarding conditions in the house prevented him from escaping

A prosecutor described Beckwitt as a skilled hacker who had a paranoid fixation on a possible nuclear attack by North Korea.

Beckwitt went to great lengths to keep the project secret, prosecutors said.

He tried to trick Khafra into thinking they were digging tunnels in Virginia instead of Maryland by having him wear “blackout goggles” before taking him on a long drive.

Beckwitt also used internet impersonation to make it look like they were digging in Virginia, prosecutors say.

Khafra worked in the tunnels for days at a stretch, eating and sleeping there, urinating and defecating into a bucket that Beckwitt lowered to him. The tunnels had lights, an air circulation system and heating.

A hole in the concrete floor of the basement led to a shaft that descended 20 feet into tunnels that stretched about 200 feet long.

Investigators concluded that the fire was started by a faulty electrical outlet in the basement.

Beckwitt did not testify at his trial.

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