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Wealthy Man Wanted a Secret Bunker, Got a Cell Instead

Daniel Beckwitt handed 21 years, with all but 9 suspended, in death of Askia Khafra
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2019 9:30 AM CDT
Daniel Beckwitt.   (Montgomery County Police Department via AP, File)
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(Newser) – During Daniel Beckwitt's trial, his lawyer explained the Maryland man wanted to build a bunker below his Bethesda home due to his fear of a nuke attack by North Korea. He'll now spend his time in a different sort of confined space. The New York Times reports the wealthy day trader was sentenced Monday to 21 years in prison, with all but nine of those suspended, for the death of a 21-year-old man he hired to dig a network of tunnels 20 feet below ground. The AP reports Askia Khafra was "burned beyond recognition" in an underground blaze caused by an electrical fire that began in the basement above on Sept. 10, 2017. Prosecutors says the hoarder-like nature of the basement made it impossible for Khafra to escape; Beckwitt's lawyer countered Monday that Beckwitt committed a "passive omission ... That's what he was on trial for, the consequences of failing to keep the basement clean."

Beckwitt was convicted of "depraved heart" second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in April, and he spoke at a sentencing hearing that the Washington Post reports stretched nearly three hours. He apologized to Khafra's parents for the death of a "smart" and "exceptional young man" and said he did try to save him before "the smoke simply became too thick for me to find him." Montgomery County Circuit Judge Margaret Schweitzer told Beckwitt he could have put his own smarts to better use. "I can't imagine what you could have done if you considered altruistic needs," she said, noting he could have used his computer skills to help America protect itself from foreign hacking attempts. (Read more on the case here.)

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