A wealthy stock trader and “skilled computer hacker” was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison for the fiery death of a man who was helping him secretly dig tunnels for a nuclear bunker beneath a Maryland home. Baltimore Sun reports: Daniel Beckwitt, 28, had faced a maximum of 30 years in prison when Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Margaret Schweitzer sentenced him. In total, Beckwitt was sentenced to 21 years but the judge suspended all but nine years of the sentence. In April, a jury convicted Beckwitt of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the September 2017 death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra. During the trial, Montgomery County prosecutor Marybeth Ayres accused Beckwitt of recklessly endangering Khafra’s life. Beckwitt ignored obvious signs of danger and sacrificed safety for secrecy while they dug a network of tunnels beneath a home in Bethesda, a suburb of Washington, D.C., the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Robert Bonsib had told jurors the fire was an accident, not a crime. Firefighters found Khafra’s naked, charred body in the basement of Beckwitt’s trash-filled house, only a few steps from an exit. Prosecutors said the extreme hoarding conditions in the home prevented Khafra from escaping. 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. Bonsib said Beckwitt screamed for help from neighbors after the fire broke out and tried to rescue his friend from the blaze before heavy smoke and flames forced him to retreat. A prosecutor described Beckwitt as having “a paranoid fixation on a possible nuclear attack by North Korea.”
The tunnels that Khafra was working on were kept a secret, so much so that Beckwitt “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,” the report says. “Khafra had a cellphone with him in the tunnels, but Beckwitt used internet ‘spoofing’ to make it appear they were digging in Virginia.”