Stock trader Daniel Beckwitt gets reduced sentence for Askia Khafra’s death

A millionaire securities trader received a reduced sentence on Tuesday for his role in the fiery death of a man who was helping him secretly dig tunnels for a nuclear bunker under a house outside Washington, DC

Daniel Beckwitt, 30, was originally sentenced in 2019 to nine years in prison after being found guilty of second-degree murder of “depraved heart” and manslaughter in the September 2017 death of Askia Khafra.

Khafra, 21, was found burned beyond recognition in the tunnels after a fire broke out at Beckwitt’s home in Bethesda, Maryland, just above where he worked for help Beckwitt dig the tunnels. He later died from smoke inhalation and heat injuries.

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

He made Khafra work in the tunnels for days, eating and sleeping there, urinating and defecating in a bucket that Beckwitt lowered to him.

A state appeals court overturned Beckwitt’s murder conviction in January 2021, saying his conduct did not demonstrate “extreme disregard for human life reasonably likely to cause death.”

But in January 2022, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, later upheld Beckwitt’s manslaughter conviction.

The court found that Beckwitt’s failure to provide Khafra with a reasonably safe workplace in the tunnels constituted gross negligence.

Prosecutors said the extreme hoarding conditions in the house prevented him from escaping. The home’s assessed value in 2019 was $495,700, according to a state tax database.

Daniel Beckwitt, 30, was convicted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Askia Khafra in September 2017. Above, he is seen posing in the secret network of bunkers and tunnels under his house he started building for fear of nuclear attacks from North Korea.

Askia Khafra, 21, was found burned beyond recognition in the tunnels under Beckwitt's home in Bethesda, Maryland, after a fire broke out just above where he worked with Beckwitt.

Askia Khafra, 21, was found burned beyond recognition in the tunnels under Beckwitt’s home in Bethesda, Maryland, after a fire broke out just above where he worked with Beckwitt.

At trial, Montgomery County District Attorney Marybeth Ayres said Beckwitt sacrificed security to secrecy and created “death trap” conditions in the home.

“The behavior was grossly negligent on so many levels,” Ayres said Tuesday. “It wasn’t just one thing.”

The pair met online, and Beckwitt had invested money in a business Khafra was trying to start as he helped Beckwitt dig the tunnel system.

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.

A hole in the concrete floor of the basement led to a shaft that descended 20 feet (6 meters) into tunnels that stretched about 200 feet (60 meters) long. Investigators concluded that the fire was started by a faulty electrical outlet in the basement.

Khafra died from smoke inhalation and heat injuries he sustained in September 2017

Khafra died from smoke inhalation and heat injuries he sustained in September 2017

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

Daniel Beckwitt, 30, was originally sentenced in 2019 to nine years in prison after being found guilty of second degree 'depraved heart' murder

Daniel Beckwitt, 30, was originally sentenced in 2019 to nine years in prison after being found guilty of second degree ‘depraved heart’ murder

The court found that Beckwitt’s failure to provide Khafra with a reasonably safe workplace in the tunnels constituted gross negligence.

Beckwitt has already been incarcerated for almost three years and is legally eligible for parole because he has served more than a quarter of his sentence.

Noting that Beckwitt could be released soon, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Margaret Schweitzer also sentenced him to five years of supervised probation after his release and ordered him to complete 250 hours of labor. general interest.

“I hope this is an opportunity for you to give back to our community,” she said. “I hope you will do what you can do, which is to use your intelligence for good.”

Beckwitt, who has been jailed since his trial conviction in April 2019. He did not testify at his trial, but he apologized to Khafra’s parents before Schweitzer convicted him in June 2019.

On Tuesday, Beckwitt described Khafra as a good friend and said he still mourns him “to this day”.

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

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

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of all the great things Askia should have done,” he said. “The world needs more people like Askia Khafra, not less.”

Dia Khafra, Askia’s father, expressed frustration at Beckwitt’s “light” sentence and said he felt his family had been “stabbed with the knife of victimization again”.

“I think as a victim, all that mattered to the system was the rules, the procedures, the legalese – not the overriding fact that my son’s life, my dear son, had been deliberately terminated,” he said. he told the judge before she gave Beckwitt’s retrial. phrasing.

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.

Defense attorney Robert Bonsib told jurors Beckwitt cried out for help to his neighbors and risked his own safety in a failed attempt to save his friend.

“It was an accidental death, pure and simple, and it was not intentional,” Bonsib told the judge on Tuesday.

The judge said she believed Beckwitt’s ‘intellectual arrogance’ had misled him into believing everything would turn out as he had planned at home.

She expressed her sympathy for Khafra’s family and said she understood why her father was frustrated.

“Please don’t equate the number of years (in prison) with the value of the victim’s life in this case,” Schweitzer said. “It just can’t happen.”

Bonsib, the defense attorney, said he expects Beckwitt to be released from prison within “at most” a few months.

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