Bethesda man appealing court’s denial to overturn 2nd conviction in tunnel fire

Attorneys representing a Bethesda, Maryland, man — who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after firefighters found the body of a man he hired to dig a network of tunnels under his home — are planning to appeal a court’s denial to overturn his conviction.

Megan Coleman, an attorney for Daniel Beckwitt, asked the Maryland Special Court of Appeals to reconsider her client’s conviction, but the court denied the motion on March 31.

The court had earlier overturned a jury’s decision to convict Beckwitt of depraved-heart murder in the death of Askia Khafra, 21.

Montgomery County firefighters found Khafra’s body in the tunnels under Beckwitt’s house on Danbury Road, after an electrical fire started below the home in September 2017.

Beckwitt was convicted in 2019 and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Coleman believes that the Special Appeals Court incorrectly assumed that the jury convicted Beckwitt on the involuntary manslaughter charge based on the lesser included offense of gross negligence.

She plans to appeal to a higher court and argue that the modality of involuntary manslaughter that should be considered in the case is legal duty and the jury was not instructed to distinguish between the two modalities of the charge.

Because Beckwitt was Khafra’s employer, she believes that his legal duty is what should be considered as the included offense for reconsideration.

Beckwitt will likely be resentenced once the appeals process on the depraved-heart murder charge is complete.

Prosecutors can ask the state’s highest court to review that case, but the appeal will be considered separately for the involuntary manslaughter charge. The state has yet to file a cross-petition to her appeal.

Megan Cloherty

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

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