Millionaire stock trader's involuntary manslaughter conviction over death of man who was helping him dig tunnels for nuclear bunkers under a home is upheld by Maryland's highest court

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Maryland stock trader Daniel Beckwitt had his involuntary manslaughter conviction upheld by the state's highest court on Friday Beckwitt was held responsible for the death of Askia Khafra, 21, after he had been burnt while helping him dig tunnels for a nuclear bunker under his homeThe Maryland Court Appeals ruled that Beckwitt had failed to provide Khafra with a safe workspace which constituted gross negligenceBeckwitt was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2019 after a jury convicted him of second-degree 'depraved heart' murder and involuntary manslaughterHis murder conviction was overturned after the court ruled that his actions did not ultimately reflect his regard for another human's life

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

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

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

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

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‘Beckwitt’s conduct was likely to result in harm to Khafra at any moment and an ordinarily prudent person under similar circumstances would have been conscious 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 convicted him on charges of second-degree ‘depraved heart’ murder and involuntary manslaughter.

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

The Court of Appeals said in its ruling that while his actions showed ‘a wanton and reckless disregard for human life,’ it wasn’t the kind of conduct that was likely to have caused death and therefore didn’t demonstrate ‘an extreme indifference to the value of human life.’

Beckwitt will need to be resentenced now that the Court of Appeals has tossed the murder conviction. He has been imprisoned since his April 2019 conviction.

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

Askia Khafra, 21, was burnt beyond recognition as the result of a fire that broke out above the tunnels in September 2017

Askia Khafra, 21, was burnt beyond recognition as the result of a fire that broke out above the tunnels in September 2017

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

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

Khafra’s father, Dia, said the ruling by the state’s high court is ‘illustrative of a flawed judicial system’ and believes Beckwitt’s nine-year prison sentence already was too lenient.

‘As a father who has lost his son at the tender age of 21 years in a most gruesome manner, I’m very, very disappointed,’ Khafra added.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Beckwitt faces up to nine years in prison when he is resentenced. 

McCarthy said his office will seek that maximum sentence ‘to hold the defendant accountable for his blatant disregard for the life of (Khafra).’

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

‘Both appellate courts have said that there was no malice in this case,’ Coleman said. ‘To us, that would warrant a lower 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 down to him

Khafa's father Dia said that the court's recent ruling was 'illustrative of a flawed judicial system' and believed that Beckwitt's initial nine-year sentence was already considered to be too lenient

Khafa’s father Dia said that the court’s recent ruling was ‘illustrative of a flawed judicial system’ and believed that Beckwitt’s initial nine-year sentence was already considered to be too lenient 

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

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

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

At trial, Montgomery County prosecutor Marybeth Ayres said Beckwitt sacrificed safety for 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 a failed attempt to rescue his friend.

Khafra met Beckwitt who had invested money in a company he was trying to launch as he helped the stock trader to dig the network of tunnels. 

Beckwitt is seen posing in the secret bunker and tunnel network under his home that he started to build in fear over nuclear attacks from North Korea

Beckwitt is seen posing in the secret bunker and tunnel network under his home that he started to build in fear over nuclear attacks from North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Beckwitt also used internet ‘spoofing’ to make it appear they were digging in Virginia, according to prosecutors.

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

Beckwitt didn’t testify at his trial.

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