In opening statements Wednesday, prosecutor Marybeth Ayres said 21-year-old Askia Khafra perished in an electrical fire in September 2017 “because he was stuck in a death trap … created by this defendant.” She repeatedly said that Beckwitt valued “secrecy over safety” for the tunnel project.
Khafra, of Silver Spring, would be blindfolded and driven to what he was told was a site near Lake Anna in Virginia, prosecutors said. He would go into the tunnels for several days at a time, where he had a television, a bed and food. Prosecutors said he was found naked because he used wet wipes for showering, and was in the middle of cleaning himself when he felt he needed to escape.
They said extreme hoarding conditions in the home blocked possible exit routes.
Khafra was the most recent of several people to work on the tunnel project. The prosecution painted him as an aspiring entrepreneur and an idealistic dreamer who relied on Beckwitt for funding of his startup company. The prosecution also described Beckwitt as a multimillionaire who made his fortune in bitcoin.
“This case is an accident,” said defense attorney Robert Bonsib, “an accident plain and simple.” He added that Beckwitt was very concerned at the scene of the fire and directed first responders to the basement in an attempt to save Khafra.
John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.