Stock trader suffers 5 years for deadly bunker fire – CBS Baltimore

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) – On Tuesday, a wealthy stockbroker was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the fiery death of a man who was helping him secretly dig a tunnel for a nuclear bunker. under a house in the Maryland suburb of Washington, DC.

Daniel Beckwitt has been incarcerated for nearly three years and is eligible for statutory parole because he has served more than a quarter of his sentence. Noting that Beckwitt could be released soon, Judge Margaret Schweitzer of Montgomery County Court also sentenced him to five years of supervised probation upon his release and ordered him to perform 250 hours of community service. .

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“I hope this is your chance to give back to our community,” she said. “I hope you do what you can, which is to use your intelligence for good.”

Beckwitt, 30, was initially sentenced to nine years in prison in 2019 after a grand jury found him guilty of second-degree “depraved” murder and involuntary manslaughter in the 21-year-old’s death. Askia Khafra in September 2017.

But one state appeals court overturns Beckwitt . murder conviction in January 2021, said his conduct did not represent “an extreme disregard for human life that is reasonably likely to cause death.” Maryland’s special appeals court also upheld his sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, subsequently upheld Beckwitt’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter. The the court concludes that Beckwitt’s failure to provide Khafra with a reasonably safe workplace in the tunnel constituted gross negligence.

Beckwitt has been in custody since his sentencing in April 2019. He did not testify at his trial, but he did apologize to Khafra’s parents earlier. Schweitzer sentenced him in June 2019. On Tuesday, Beckwitt described Khafra as a good friend and said he still mourns him “to this day”.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about all the wonderful things that Askia should have done,” he said. “The world needs more people like Askia Khafra, not less.”

Askia’s father, Dia Khafra, expressed disappointment with Beckwitt’s “light” sentence and said he felt as if his family had been “stabbed with the victim’s knife again”.

“I feel that as a victim, all that matters to the system are the rules, the procedures, the legality – not the overarching truth that my son’s life, his my dear son, was intentionally terminated,” he told the judge before she delivered Beckwitt’s new decision. the sentence.

Firefighters found Khara’s naked, charred body in the basement after a fire broke out in Beckwitt’s home in Bethesda, Maryland.

Prosecutors said harsh storage conditions in his home made it impossible for him to escape. At the trial, Montgomery County prosecutor Marybeth Ayres said Beckwitt sacrificed safety to maintain secrecy and created “death trap” conditions in the home.

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“That behavior was really negligent on so many levels,” Ayres said on Tuesday. “It’s not just one thing.”

Defense attorney Robert Bonsib told jurors that Beckwitt yelled for help from his neighbors and risked his own safety in a failed attempt to rescue his friend.

Bonsib told the judge on Tuesday: “This was an accidental, pure and simple death, and it was unintentional.

Khafra met Beckwitt online. Beckwitt invested money in a company Khafra was trying to start when he helped Beckwitt dig the network of tunnels. A prosecutor described Beckwitt as a skilled computer hacker who was paranoid about a possible nuclear attack by North Korea.

Prosecutors say Beckwitt did a lot to keep the project secret. He tried to trick Khafra into thinking they were tunneling in Virginia instead of Maryland by asking him to put on “dark glasses” before taking him a long way. According to prosecutors, Beckwitt also used internet “spoofing” to make it look like they were digging in Virginia.

Khafra worked in the tunnels for days at a time, eating and sleeping there, urinating and defecating into a bucket that Beckwitt lowered for him. The tunnels have lights, air circulation systems and fireplaces.

A hole in the concrete basement floor led to a shaft falling 20 feet (6 meters) into tunnels about 200 feet (60 meters) long. Investigators concluded the fire was ignited by a faulty electrical outlet in the basement.

The judge said she believed Beckwitt’s “intellectual arrogance” had led him to mistakenly believe that everything would turn out as he had planned at the house. She expressed sympathy for Khafra’s family and said she understood why his father was frustrated.

“Please don’t equate years (in prison) with the value of the victim’s life in this case,” Schweitzer said. “It just can’t happen.”

Bonsib, the defense attorney, said he expects Beckwitt to be released from prison within a few months “at most”.

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Jake Nichol

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