A Maryland man faces murder, manslaughter charges after his pal died digging the secret tunnel network he hoped would save him from North Korea’s budding nuclear missile program, according to his lawyer.
After months of nuclear weapon tests by the isolated nation last year, 27-year-old Daniel Beckwitt began construction on an underground bunker to protect himself from a possible intercontinental ballistic missile attack at his Bethesda property.
The digger’s paranoia was fueled by “rising international tensions” between the U.S. and North Korea, the lawyer said, when the Kim Jong Un regime began testing missiles with the potential of reaching the East Coast.
“There was nothing nefarious about his building of the tunnels,” said Beckwitt’s attorney, Robert Bonsib, on Thursday. “They were just a product of his world view.”
The daunting project, however, led to the death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra in September after Beckwitt hired him to help dig the subterranean network of tunnels, according to charging papers obtained by the Washington Post. The tunnels spanned more than 200 feet and were under 20 feet of soil.
When a fatal fire erupted in Beckwitt’s basement, he greeted firefighters outside and told them Khafra was trapped inside, court documents state, citing Montgomery County detectives.
In the basement, firefighters found Khafra and the secret entrance to his tunnels.
Beckwitt tried saving Khafra, Bonsib said, but he failed. Khafra died of smoke inhalation and burns, according to officials.
Beckwitt was arrested Friday by authorities in Burke, Va., and charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in Khafra’s death. He was extradited back to Montgomery County.
He appeared in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on Thursday and was ordered held on a $100,000 cash bond, court records show.
Bonsib, who has represented Beckwitt since January, expressed assurances that he is mentally sound to take on the criminal charges.
“My client is a very intelligent individual,” Bonsib said. “He just marches to the beat of his own drum. That’s one of the wonderful things about this country. You can do that.”