A Maryland appeals court has overturned the conviction of Daniel Beckwitt for second-degree “depraved heart” murder, finding that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to have warranted that charge. The Bethesda man had been found guilty in the fiery 2017 tunnel death of Silver Spring resident Askia Khafra. Beckwitt was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter, which the appeals court did not overturn. He will now face a new sentencing, and the ruling means that he could end up doing less time (he is currently serving a nine-year sentence).
The bizarre case was chronicled in an in-depth 2019 Washingtonian story. Khafra died in a fire that broke out in a series of tunnels leading to a bunker underneath Beckwitt’s home. A budding entrepreneur, Khafra was working for Beckwitt at the time, digging tunnels with a pickax and shovel. He would eat, sleep, and use the restroom in the shaft as he clocked long hours.
Unlike a straightforward homicide charge, a “depraved heart” murder describes a death that occurs due to an extreme disregard for human life. When the house caught fire, Khafra escaped the burrow network but never emerged from the basement’s rubble. Beckwitt was found guilty in April 2019.