wb21832 karma2019-09-09 16:39:44 UTC
There are so many things I'm still curious about:
- Askia said that Beckwitt had something secret hidden in a "special tunnel," though no one I spoke to ever found out what it was. What was in there? And for that matter, what is the true extent of the tunnels? Firefighters only went so far before backing out, concerned about safety; according to the State's Attorney, the configuration of the tunnels has prevented any person—or robot—from going all the way through them.
- Beckwitt claimed online (and told Askia) that he held some of his wealth in the form of gold, which he said he hid in remote caves. Investigators found bars of gold in the house after the fire. Was there anything to what Beckwitt claimed about the gold?
- What was Daniel Beckwitt's relationship with Martin Shkreli?
- The biggest mystery of all—one we'll never have a definite answer to—is what exactly happened to Askia on the 10th. Prosecutors presented a credible/reasonable theory, but I don't think I'll ever stop wondering about those minutes between the CO detector going off and the firefighters' arrival.
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wb21828 karma2019-09-09 17:02:16 UTC
The last time anyone went into them was two years ago, when a county fire investigator trained in confined-space rescue dropped down the tunnel hole with a camera, guided by the light at the end of her handgun. She testified at trial that she could only make it so far before she backed out, because some of the tunnels became too narrow and she was worried they could collapse on her. As far as anyone knows, they're still there, intact. The County condemned the house and ordered it demolished, but Beckwitt has been fighting them in court for over a year, trying to keep the house standing.
wb21827 karma2019-09-09 17:18:38 UTC
I was thrown off by the term the first time I heard it, too. Second-degree "depraved heart" murder is a somewhat archaic legal concept; it doesn't exist in every state. The difference between depraved heart murder and involuntary manslaughter essentially boils down to whether Beckwitt acted with a "reckless" disregard for human life or an "extreme" disregard for human life. Sort of hard to say what the difference is, right? Those of us who followed the court case could sense that the jury struggled over the definitions; they sent one or two questions out, asking the judge to clarify the difference between the two crimes. But there's no clear statute in Maryland defining exactly how depraved heart murder is different from involuntary manslaughter, and the judge didn't (or couldn't) offer them specific guidance.
Ultimately, they found him guilty of both depraved heart murder and involuntary manslaughter. On manslaughter, the prosecutors made the case that he had a worker/employee relationship with Askia and thus a duty to keep him safe. Sitting through the trial, it wasn't hard to see how the jury could get to guilty verdict on that count—Beckwitt clearly did not maintain a safe work environment for Askia.
On depraved heart murder, the prosecutors pointed to the blocked windows, the fact that Beckwitt never cleared the basement (unhelpfully for Beckwitt, the defense's own witness seemed to confirm that the hoarding had gotten worse between Askia's penultimate trip in April 2017 and his last trip that September), and several other points.
At Beckwitt's sentencing in June, the judge explained that her decision on prison time would come down to a question of whether Beckwitt was guilty of "first-degree murder minus some" or "involuntary manslaughter plus a little"—in other words, depraved heart murder sits between the two. She found that it was more the latter.
I think the essential confusion here for any observer of this case is that depraved-heart murder doesn't have a clear legal definition, and the charge itself is somewhat problematic/contested. Here's a great law review comment on the crime, if you want some further reading: https://scholarworks.law.ubalt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=2021&context=ublr
wb21822 karma2019-09-09 16:44:42 UTC
Hey, nice to meet another freelancer! There's so much detail and information that I couldn't fit in the 6,000 words of my article. There's certainly enough there for a podcast or documentary or some other storytelling form. And I'm interested in continuing to work on it.
wb21814 karma2019-09-09 16:47:18 UTC
Yes, I spoke to many people close to Askia, and also tracked down some friends/acquaintances of Daniel's.
Many of the people who knew Daniel weren't comfortable putting their names on the record. Much of what I ultimately learned about him came from interviews with neighbors and public records.
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