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A Millionaire, Secret Tunnels, and a Fiery Death in Maryland

Daniel Beckwitt arrested over the death of Askia Khafra
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2018 10:24 AM CDT
Daniel Beckwitt.   (Montgomery County Police)

(Newser) – During a hearing on Thursday, Daniel Beckwitt gave an affirmative nod when his defense attorney described him as an "unusual individual." Indeed, lawyer Robert Bonsib describes the 27-year-old Maryland man as a millionaire thanks to stock trades who was in the process of building a bunker below his Bethesda home due to his fear of North Korea and other "international threats." But what happened some 20 feet underground now has him charged with "depraved-heart" murder: A 21-year-old man he hired to dig a network of tunnels that spread over 200 feet died in a Sept. 10 fire. WTOP reports Askia Khafra and Beckwitt had a deal: Khafra would help dig and Beckwitt would invest in his tech start-up. Khafra had been to the home to work several times, and prosecutors say he sent an ominous text the day of the fire.

Khafra let Beckwitt know he smelled smoke, and prosecutors say Beckwitt twice toggled the circuit breaker switch in an attempt to fix the issue. Detectives noted the tunnel relied on "a haphazard, daisy-chain of extension cords and plug extenders that created a substantial risk of fire," per an affidavit, which officials see as justification for the depraved-heart murder charge, which requires "extreme disregard" for life. He has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter. They also described hoarding-like conditions that would have prevented an easy escape. Khafra was found in a tunnel, having succumbed to smoke inhalation and burns, per WTOP; the source of the fire has not been released. The Washington Post explains depraved-heart murder is a notch below first-degree murder and punishable by up to 30 years. (Read more fire stories.)

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