Bethesda Millionaire Will Not Testify in His Murder Trial
Defense wraps up its case, jury deliberations expected to begin next week
VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE
The Bethesda man charged with murder following the death of a Silver Spring man in a house fire nearly two years ago will not testify at his trial, attorneys said Thursday.
Daniel Beckwitt, 27, is facing charges of second-degree “depraved heart” murder and involuntary manslaughter after Askia Khafra was killed in a September 2017 fire while digging tunnels under Beckwitt’s property for a bunker.
The jury trial began on April 10, and defense attorneys finished witness testimony on Wednesday. A man hired to dig tunnels, a forensic toxicologist and three of Beckwitt’s neighbors gave testimony.
Defense attorneys declined to comment on why they would not put their client in the witness chair.
Even though he won’t take the stand, Beckwitt has routinely sought to aid his attorneys and take part in court discussions. He has passed notes to both of his lawyers, and tapped one on the shoulder during a bench meeting with Judge Margaret Schweitzer to comment.
The millionaire stock trader began digging tunnels out of fear of an attack by North Korea, and employed at least three people to live and work beneath the Danbury Road house, according to prosecutors and case files.
Prosecutors have said Khafra was “stuck in a death trap,” and the theme of Beckwitt’s interactions with employees was “secrecy over safety at all costs.”
Defense attorney Robert Bonsib has called Khafra’s death “an accident plain and simple,” while prosecutors have consistently pointed toward “extreme hoarding conditions” that effectively blockaded the 21-year-old beneath the residence.
Prosecutors called first responders and law enforcement personnel to the witness stand, where they described amount of debris and clutter around the residence and the basement leading to the tunnels. Firefighters’ body camera recordings, made while they were cleaning up the scene, was also presented.
The defense this week called 23-year-old Douglas Hart, who worked in the tunnels several times over a seven-month period, and he described his friendship with Beckwitt.
Hart explained how Beckwitt would have him wear glasses covered with dark tape, then drive around in an attempt keep the location of the house a secret.
Closing arguments in the case are expected on Tuesday. Jury deliberations could begin Tuesday or Wednesday.
Charlie Wright can be reached at email@example.com