Millionaire day-trader convicted of murder in death of worker building secret bomb shelter and tunnels under his Maryland home

The tunnel system dropped 20 feet from Daniel Beckwitt's basement, and extended up to 200 feet in at least three directions.

In this Aug. 18, 2018, photo, police tape surrounds the house where Askia Khafra died in a fire while digging underground tunnels for a secretive campaign to build a nuclear bunker in Bethesda, Md. Daniel Beckwitt, a stock trader who lived alone in the house, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the Sept. 10, 2017, death of Askia Khafra. (AP Photo/Michael Kunzelman)
In this Aug. 18, 2018, photo, police tape surrounds the house where Askia Khafra died in a fire. –Michael Kunzelman / AP

A millionaire day-trader who was having a secret bomb shelter and tunnels built under his home in Bethesda, Maryland, was found guilty of murder Wednesday for creating work conditions that prosecutors called a “death trap.”

Daniel Beckwitt, 27, faces up to 30 years in prison after a jury in Montgomery County concluded he’d committed “depraved heart” second-degree murder in the death of Askia Khafra, 21, whom Beckwitt had hired for excavation work. In reaching the verdict, jurors determined Beckwitt had acted in “extreme disregard for human life.”

The tunnel system dropped 20 feet from Beckwitt’s basement, and extended up to 200 feet in at least three directions.

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Khafra had been working in the tunnels on the afternoon of Sept. 10, 2017, when an accidental electrical fire broke out in the home’s basement.

Daniel Beckwitt. —Montgomery County Police Department

Khafra smelled smoke, climbed out of the tunnels and tried to escape through the basement. But he was slowed before he could reach a doorway by hoarding-like clutter and perished from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, according to prosecutors.

“He was stuck in a death trap,” Assistant State’s Attorney Marybeth Ayres had told jurors during the two-week trial. “He could not get out.”

“This case is about an accident, an accident pure and simple,” countered Beckwitt’s attorney, Robert Bonsib. “An accident that involved the death of a fine a young man. An accident that occurred under circumstances that were completely unintended and unexpected by another fine young man.”

The jury deliberated for two hours on Tuesday and all day Wednesday.

Beckwitt had gone to extreme measures to keep his bunker a secret, starting the project several years ago without his neighbors being aware of it.

He did not hire professional excavators, but over time enlisted at least three acquaintances to dig. One of them, Khafra, had started working in early 2017. Beckwitt had met him online, and invested $5,000 in a startup financial venture Khafra was trying to launch.

Dia Khafra, father of Askia Khafra, holds a photo of his son in his Silver Springs, Maryland, home, Sept. 5, 2018. —Michael Kunzelman / AP
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Beckwitt tried to keep the location of his home secret from Khafra. He would pick Khafra up at his home in Silver Spring and ask him to wear blacked out glasses, according to trial testimony.

Beckwitt maintained to Khafra that his bunker was in rural Virginia, according to trial testimony. To keep up the ruse, Beckwitt would drive the younger man around for an hour before pulling up to his home along Danbury Road, several blocks north of the National Institutes of Health.

In recent interviews, Beckwitt’s neighbors said they knew nothing about the tunnels before they came to light after the fire.