2019 | Courts

Bethesda Man To Serve Nine Years in Prison for Death of Tunnel Digger

Beckwitt apologizes for murder of 'exceptional young man' in 2017 basement fire

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Daniel Beckwitt

Via montgomery county police

A millionaire Bethesda stock trader convicted of murder after a worker died while digging tunnels under his house was sentenced Monday to spend nine years in prison.

Daniel Beckwitt, 28, faced a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of second-degree “depraved heart” murder and involuntary manslaughter in late April in the death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra in the September 2017 fire.

Beckwitt was building a tunnel system under his Bethesda house out of fear of a North Korean attack and had hired several workers to dig tunnels, according to state prosecutors and court documents.

Judge Margaret Schweitzer said giving the maximum sentence would be ignoring the unique circumstances of the case and not be “fair-minded.”

In sentencing Beckwitt to a 21-year term, with all but nine years suspended, the judge agreed with defense and prosecution lawyers that Khafra’s death was not an intentional act.

“Who you are is not a throwaway person,” Schweitzer said. “It’s unfortunate I have to give you a sentence that includes a significant amount of time.

Beckwitt appeared in court in a green jail-issued jumpsuit, and following 90 minutes of victim impact statements along with arguments from the defense and state, he was allowed to address the court.

“He was truly an exceptional young man,” Beckwitt said to the Khafra family. “… I’m sorry for what happened, but sorry does not begin to scratch the service of this awful tragedy.”

Beckwitt told Schweitzer he would not beg for mercy, as the jury convicted him of a serious crime. “All I ask is you come to view me not as a monster, but as an imperfect human being.”

Khafra’s parents spoke before sentencing.

“He robbed me from the potential to see my young son’s life journey,” said Dia Khafra, the victim’s father.

“Askia’s death has left me broken,” said Claudia Khafra. “… I hope he is resting in peace. I am not.”

Beckwitt was given 60 days credit for time served. He also received five years of supervised probation and is prohibited from interacting with any of the witnesses, relatives of the victim, or people involved with the trial, aside from his defense attorneys.

Schweitzer added that punishment for murder is considered on a continuum, and the crime was closer to involuntary manslaughter than second-degree murder, which influenced her decision.

Schweitzer denied a motion for a new trial in the case on Thursday. Defense attorney Robert Bonsib is expected to file an appeal for a new trial in the Court of Special Appeals.

Beckwitt is being held without bond in a county detention center. He also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Khafra’s parents.

This story will be updated.

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