Stock trader sentenced to 5 years in prison for deadly bunker fire

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) – A wealthy stock trader was sentenced to five years in prison 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 in a suburb of Maryland. washington d.c.

Daniel 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 your chance 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, 30, was originally sentenced in 2019 to nine years in prison after a jury found him guilty of ‘depraved heart’ second-degree murder and manslaughter in the September 2017 death of ‘Askia Khafra, 21 years old.

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But 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.” The Maryland Special Court of Appeals also upheld his manslaughter conviction.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, 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.

Beckwitt has been imprisoned since his sentencing at trial in April 2019. He did not testify at his trial, but he apologized to Khafra’s parents before Schweitzer sentencing him in June 2019. On Tuesday, Beckwitt described Khafra as a good friend and said he still mourns him “to this day”.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about 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 again with the knife of victimhood”.

“I feel that 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 told the judge before she gave Beckwitt’s retrial. phrasing.

Firefighters found Khara’s naked, charred body in the basement after a fire broke out at Beckwitt’s home in Bethesda, Maryland.

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 “death trap” conditions in the home.

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

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.

Khafra met Beckwitt online. Beckwitt had invested money in a business Khafra was trying to start as he helped Beckwitt dig the tunnel system. 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 “spoofing” 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 (6 meters) into tunnels that stretched about 200 feet (60 meters) in length. Investigators concluded that the fire was started by a faulty electrical outlet in the basement.

The judge said she believed Beckwitt’s ‘intellectual arrogance’ 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 in “at most” a few months.

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