Va. man headed to Md. to face murder charges in Bethesda tunnel house death

Askia Khafra, 21, died in the basement of this Bethesda home in September. County officials have since condemned it. (Courtesy Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service)

WASHINGTON — A Burke, Virginia, man will soon make his way to a Maryland courtroom, charged with killing a contractor who prosecutors said he hired to tunnel under his family’s Bethesda home.

Daniel Beckwitt, 27, went before a judge in Fairfax County, where prosecutors said he waived extradition and will be transported to Montgomery County by Wednesday afternoon. That’s where Beckwitt faces manslaughter and second-degree murder charges in the death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra.

Firefighters discovered Khafra’s body during a September 2017 house fire, in one of what court documents call a “network of unsupported tunnels” under Beckwitt’s home.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy says his office is charging “depraved heart second-degree murder” due to Beckwitt’s decision to act with wanton disregard for human life.

It has been more than six months since a medical examiner ruled Khafra died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, the Montgomery County police said. At the time, the medical examiner did not rule on the manner of his death.

“The circumstances surrounding this alleged homicide are significantly different and it did require a lot of work by experts and police and making sure we felt comfortable it would fit within the law,” McCarthy said.

When asked about the amount of time passed before charges were filed, McCarthy compared the evidence to a highway accident reconstruction, in trying to illustrate how much evidence needed to be tested and analyzed before it was deemed sufficient to proceed with the case. He said it’s not uncommon for highway accident investigations to take nearly a year to bring to court.

Since the discovery of the tunnels under the house, there has been a question of risk to neighbors and their properties. A civil complaint filed in late March 2018 by the county against Beckwitt and his father, David who owns the home, indicate “severe conditions,” “hoarding and hazardous materials” which it calls a “public nuisance.” It ordered the “dangerous conditions be removed.” The Beckwitts denied those claims in their response filed May 1.

County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer confirms it turned the house over to the Department of Permitting Services following the conclusion of its investigation last fall. Since then, the county and the Beckwitts have been in a contentious back-and-forth over whether the tunnels need mitigation.

The civil complaint will likely follow the criminal case, according to county sources; however, it remains unclear what specific evidence implicates Beckwitt in Khafra’s killing.

“At all times relevant hereto DPS has prevented defendants or professionals from access the property for the purposes of inspecting and or repairing the property,” the Beckwitts’ attorney, George Bealefeld, wrote in their response.

Multiple sources confirm county employees, including police officers, have been inside the house since the fire, which court documents said presents “severe conditions” that could “affect neighboring properties.”

WTOP reached out to the Beckwitts’ attorney and have not heard back.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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