Millionaire resentenced for fiery death of man digging secret tunnels under Maryland home

BETHESDA, Md. (WJLA) — After Daniel Beckwitt’s original sentence was overturned, a Maryland judge sentenced the wealthy Bethesda stock trader to five years in prison Tuesday in the 2017 fiery death of a man who was helping him dig tunnels for a secret, underground nuclear bunker under his house.

In April 2019, a jury convicted Beckwitt of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the September 2017 death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

A Court of Special Appeals panel ruled in January 2021 that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to sustain Beckwitt’s second-degree “depraved heart” murder conviction. But it upheld his involuntary manslaughter conviction.

The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office said Beckwitt will receive credit for time already served, which is nearly three years.

Prosecutors said extreme hoarding conditions in Beckwitt’s home prevented Khafra from escaping after a fire broke out above the tunnels.

Firefighters found Khafra’s naked, charred body in the basement of the home, only a few steps from an exit.

Hours before the fire broke out in the basement, Khafra texted Beckwitt to warn him it smelled like smoke in the tunnels. Ayres said Beckwitt didn’t respond for more than six hours before telling Khafra that there had been a “major electrical failure.”

Instead of getting Khafra out of the tunnels, Beckwitt told him that he “just switched it all over to another circuit,” according to the prosecutor.

Beckwitt went to elaborate lengths to keep the project a secret. He tried to trick Khafra into thinking they were digging the tunnels in Virginia instead of Maryland by having him don “blackout glasses” before taking him on a long drive.

Khafra had a cellphone with him in the tunnels, but Beckwitt used internet “spoofing” to make it appear they were digging in Virginia.

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

A hole in the concrete basement floor led to a shaft that dropped down 20 feet into tunnels that branched out roughly 200 feet in length.

Investigators concluded the blaze was ignited by a defective electrical outlet in the basement.

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