Closing Arguments Delivered in Maryland Tunnel Fire Murder Trial

A wealthy stock trader engaged in "extreme risk-taking behavior" before a fire broke out in his Maryland home and killed a man who was helping him dig tunnels for an underground nuclear bunker, a prosecutor said during closing arguments Tuesday.

Montgomery County prosecutor Marybeth Ayres said 27-year-old Daniel Beckwitt didn't cause the fire that killed Askia Khafra but created the conditions that prevented Khafra from escaping the house, which was filled with piles of garbage.

A lawyer for Beckwitt described him as a "very strange young man," yet urged jurors to acquit him of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges over the deadly fire. In closing arguments for Beckwitt's trial, defense attorney Robert Bonsib said the September 2017 death of the 21-year-old Khafra is a "mystery without an answer."

Khafra's charred, naked body was not far from a hole in the floor that Khafra used to enter a shaft that dropped some 20 feet underground into a series of tunnels, Beckwitt claims were to protect him from North Korean missiles.

Michael Kunzelman/AP

Prosecutors called it a death trap and also said Beckwitt went to great lengths to conceal the whereabouts of his home from Khafra, accusing him of putting blackout goggles on Khafra as he drove him to the Bethesda home.

Beckwitt told police he was surprised Khafra was able to find the secret location of the home, saying, "That's kind of scary; that's what I was trying to avoid."

Beckwitt’s attorneys argued their client’s secrecy did not result in a lack of safety.

The defense painted Khafra as a smart and mature 21-year-old man who willingly went into the tunnels on multiple occasions to dig for several days at a time. They said photos of Khafra in the tunnels show he was proud of the work that he was doing. They showed a Google message to Beckwitt in which Khafra asked, "Dude can I please work."

Jurors have begun deliberations.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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