Millionaire Seeks New Trial Over Man’s Death in Bethesda Underground Tunnel Blaze

A wealthy stock trader is seeking a new trial after his murder conviction in the fiery death of a man who was helping him secretly dig tunnels for an underground nuclear bunker beneath a Bethesda, Maryland, home.

Daniel Beckwitt's attorneys asked a Montgomery County judge on Monday to schedule a hearing for their written request for a new trial. The judge and prosecutors didn't immediately respond to their request.

On April 24, a jury convicted Beckwitt of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the September 2017 death of Askia Khafra, 21. The 27-year-old faces up to 30 years in prison at sentencing set for June 17.

Beckwitt's lawyers argue the evidence presented to jurors was insufficient "as a matter of law" to support his convictions. The evidence didn't prove Beckwitt was the "responsible party" who put Khafra "in a situation that was causally related to his death," they wrote.

"There were other reasonable hypotheses as to how the victim ended up dying in the fire," they added.

Defense attorneys claim prosecutors improperly used photographs of extreme hoarding conditions in Beckwitt's suburban Washington home. Prosecutors also improperly influenced jurors by repeatedly displaying images of Khafra's charred body and presenting evidence of Beckwitt's wealth, the lawyers argued.

"(Beckwitt's) financial condition was completely irrelevant to the jury's proper evaluation of the evidence as to whether (Beckwitt) was guilty of the two charged offenses," they wrote.

The fire erupted as Khafra was digging tunnels under Beckwitt's Bethesda, Maryland, home, which was littered with piles of garbage.

A prosecutor accused Beckwitt of recklessly endangering Khafra's life and sacrificing safety for secrecy.

Defense attorney Robert Bonsib told jurors the fire was an accident, not a crime.

Beckwitt did not testify at his trial, which lasted nearly two weeks.

Beckwitt went to elaborate lengths to keep the project a secret. Jurors heard that he tried to trick Khafra into thinking they were digging the tunnels in Virginia instead of Maryland by having him don "blackout glasses" before taking him on a long drive. They also were told Beckwitt used internet "spoofing" to make it appear they were digging in Virginia.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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