2019 | Courts

Bethesda Man Convicted of Murder in Death of Tunnel Digger

Millionaire stockbroker faces up to 30 years in prison, defense plans an appeal

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Dia Khafra, father of Askia Khafra, speaks at a press conference following the trial of Daniel Beckwitt, surrounded by family, friends and state prosecutors.

Charlie Wright

A Montgomery County jury Wednesday night found a Bethesda man guilty of murder, responsible for the death of a Silver Spring man in a Bethesda house fire nearly two years ago.

After two days of deliberations, the jurors convicted Daniel Beckwitt of second-degree “depraved heart” murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra in the September 2017 fire.

Upon hearing the verdict following a two-week trial, Beckwitt, 27, fell forward, began breathing heavily and sobbed before he was was taken from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Beckwitt’s defense attorney said he planned an appeal for his client, who faces up to 30 years in prison.

Beckwitt had hired Khafra to help dig tunnels under the Danbury Road house for a secret bunker when a fire broke out and Kharfa was unable to escape. Beckwitt, a millionaire stock broker described during the case as “weird” and “unusual,” feared a North Korean nuclear attack.

“I’m very happy with the verdict,” said Dia Khafra, the victim’s father, in a news conference following the trial. “It has restored my faith in the justice system.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said the case was difficult to prosecute since it didn’t concern an intentional act, rather a person showing “total indifference to the life of another human being.”

“It was a case that deserved to be tried because of the criminality of the conduct of the defendant,” McCarthy said at a Wednesday night news conference.

Beckwitt’s lawyer called him the product of an exquisite mind and an erratic home life, and felt he did what he could to rescue Khafra during the Sept. 10, 2003, fire.

“This was a very unfortunate result for a fine young man who put his life at risk to save his friend,” defense attorney Robert Bonsib said in a news conference.

Bonsib said his appeal for a new trial will be on the grounds that the jury was not properly instructed  on issues with the initial search of the property and what caused hoarding conditions found in the house.

“There are a multitude of legal reasons for appeal,” Bonsib said.

The jury deliberated for nearly 12 hours over two days, sending  notes to Judge Margaret Schweitzer on Wednesday.

In a note marked 2:48 p.m., the jury wrote it had come to a consensus on one of the charges facing Beckwitt.

“We agree on one of the counts but are on an impass [sic] on the other count,” read the note. “What should we do?”

Schweitzer brought the nine women and three men into the courtroom and encouraged them to continue deliberating.

The jury sent other notes, asking about examples of second-degree “depraved heart” murder and a definition of “extreme disregard,” referring to a section of the murder charge.

A sentencing hearing was set for June 17.

At the request of prosecutors, Beckwitt’s bond was revoked.

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com