MICHAEL KUNZELMAN

A Maryland jury will soon be asked to decide if it was a crime or an accident when a fire killed a man who was helping a millionaire dig a network of tunnels for an underground nuclear bunker.

Jurors are set to hear closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of 27-year-old Daniel Beckwitt. The wealthy stock trader is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the September 2017 death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra.

Beckwitt didn’t testify before prosecutors and defense lawyers finished presenting evidence from witnesses last Wednesday.

The fire erupted as Khafra was digging tunnels under Beckwitt’s home in Bethesda, a Washington suburb.

Beckwitt went to elaborate lengths to keep the project a secret. He tried to trick Khafra into thinking they were digging the tunnels in Virginia instead of Maryland by having him don “blackout glasses” before taking him on a long drive. Beckwitt also used internet “spoofing” to make it appear they were digging in Virginia.

During the trial’s opening statements, Montgomery County prosecutor Marybeth Ayres said Beckwitt sacrificed safety for secrecy and created a “death trap” in his family’s home, with mounds of trash blocking Khafra’s escape.

Hours before the fire broke out in the basement, Khafra texted Beckwitt to warn him it smelled like smoke in the tunnels. Ayres said Beckwitt didn’t respond for more than six hours before telling Khfra that there had been a “major electrical failure.” Instead of getting Khafra out of the tunnels, Beckwitt told him that he “just switched it all over to another circuit,” according to the prosecutor.

Defense attorney Robert Bonsib told jurors the fire was an accident, not a crime. Bonsib said Beckwitt screamed for help from neighbors after the fire broke out and risked his own safety in a failed attempt to rescue his friend from the blaze.

Khafra met Beckwitt online. Beckwitt had invested money in a company Khafra was trying to launch as he helped Beckwitt dig the tunnels.

Firefighters found Khafra’s charred, naked body in the basement when they entered the home. A hole in the concrete basement floor led to a shaft that dropped down 20 feet (6 meters) into tunnels that branched out roughly 200 feet (60 meters) in length.

Khafra worked in the tunnels for days at a time, eating and sleeping in there. They had lights, an air circulation system and a heater.

Bonsib said Khafra was a willing participant in the project. He showed jurors a “selfie” photograph that Khafra posted on social media, showing him in the tunnels.

Prosecutors have described Beckwitt as a skilled computer hacker who had a paranoid fixation on a possible nuclear attack by North Korea. In 2016, Beckwitt spoke at a hacker convention using the alias “3AlarmLampscooter” and wearing a fire-resistant suit and visor that obscured his face. Another prosecutor, Doug Wink, has said Beckwitt was teaching his audience how to make thermite bombs to destroy computer data “in order to get away with hacking.”

Source: Fox News National

Capital Gazette staff members stayed silent and somberly exchanged hugs Monday when the Maryland newspaper won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its newsroom.

Before the announcement, newspaper employees gathered in their newsroom to toast the five staffers who were shot and killed last June in one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” said reporter Chase Cook. “Since it’s so connected to something so tragic, there was no euphoric pop-off of excitement.”

The Capital Gazette, based in the Maryland state capital of Annapolis, published on schedule the day after the shooting attack. The man charged in the attack had a longstanding grudge against the newspaper.

Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell said the paper had submitted entries in five categories, including a joint entry with The Baltimore Sun for breaking news. Although the Capital Gazette didn’t win in any of the five categories, the Pulitzer board awarded the citation with an extraordinary $100,000 grant to further its journalism.

The Pulitzer board said the citation honors the journalists, staff and editorial board of the newspaper “for their courageous response to the largest killing of journalists in U.S. history in their newsroom” and for an “unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief.”

Hutzell said he thought the Pulitzer board handled its decision admirably.

“Clearly, there were a lot of mixed feelings,” Hutzell said. “No one wants to win an award for something that kills five of your friends.”

He also said the paper was aware it would be facing stiff competition.

“It’s very difficult when you are reporting in some ways on yourself,” he said. “That’s not what we do. We’re behind the camera, not in front of it.”

Employees John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen were killed in the attack last June 28 . The shooting didn’t stop other staffers from covering it and putting out a newspaper the next day, with assistance from colleagues at The Baltimore Sun, which is owned by the same company.

Joshua McKerrow, a photographer for the newspaper, said the staff remained “stone silent” for about a minute after learning about the citation. Capital Gazette reporter Rachael Pacella said the citation provided a “big sense of validation for the staff.”

“It’s been a challenge returning to work,” she said. “It lets you know that the additional stress you’ve endured going back to work has been worth it and appreciated.”

Features reporter Selene San Felice said she had to compose herself in a bathroom before the prizes were announced. She initially wasn’t sure how to react to the special citation.

“At first, I thought that meant they just feel bad for us. And that’s not true, because there are a lot of people you can feel bad for right now. We’ve really earned this,” she said.

Jarrod Ramos, the man charged in the newsroom shooting, had a history of harassing the newspaper’s journalists. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging he was defamed in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011. The suit was dismissed as groundless.

The rampage last June began with a shotgun blast that shattered the glass entrance to the open newsroom. Journalists crawled under desks and sought other hiding places, describing agonizing minutes of terror as they heard the gunman’s footsteps and repeated blasts of the weapon. County police said they captured Ramos hiding under a desk. Authorities say he did not exchange fire with police.

Ramos’ trial is scheduled to start in November. He pleaded not guilty last year to first-degree murder charges. April 29 is the deadline for attorneys to change his plea to not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

In October, the National Press Foundation announced that Hutzell won the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award . The award was established in 1984 to recognize imagination, professional skill, ethics and an ability to motivate staff.

In December, the newspaper’s staff was included by Time magazine among its 2018 Person of the Year honorees.

Source: Fox News National

The editor of the Capital Gazette of Maryland said Monday that his staff experienced some “rollercoaster moments” as it won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its own newsroom.

The Gazette, based in the Maryland state capital of Annapolis, published on schedule the day after the shooting attack that claimed five staffers’ lives. It was one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history. The man charged in the attack had a longstanding grudge against the paper.

Rick Hutzell, editor of Capital Gazette Communications, said the paper had submitted entries for five categories, including a joint entry with The Baltimore Sun for breaking news. Although the Gazette didn’t win in any of those five categories, the Pulitzer board awarded it the citatioin together with an extraordinary $100,000 grant to further its journalism.

Hutzell said he thought the Pulitzer judges handled the decision admirably.

“Clearly, there were a lot of mixed feelings,” Hutzell said. “No one wants to win an award for something that kills five of your friends.”

He also said the paper was aware it would be facing stiff competition.

“It’s very difficult when you are reporting in some ways on yourself,” he said. “That’s not what we do. We’re behind the camera, not in front of it.”

Five newspaper employees — John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen — were killed in the attack last June 28 . The shooting didn’t stop other staffers from covering it and putting out a newspaper the next day, with assistance from colleagues at The Baltimore Sun, which is owned by the same company.

Jarrod Ramos, the man charged in the newsroom shooting, had a history of harassing the newspaper’s journalists. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging he was defamed in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011. The suit was dismissed as groundless.

County police arrested Ramos in the newsroom. They said he blocked an exit and then used a shotgun to blast his way through the entrance.

Ramos’ trial is scheduled to start in November. He pleaded not guilty last year to first-degree murder charges. April 29 is the deadline for attorneys to change his plea to not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

In October, the National Press Foundation announced that Hutzell won the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award . The award was established in 1984 to recognize imagination, professional skill, ethics and an ability to motivate staff.

In December, the newspaper’s staff was included by Time magazine among its 2018 Person of the Year honorees.

Source: Fox News National

A prosecutor says a wealthy stock trader sacrificed safety for secrecy before a fire killed a man who was helping him dig a network of tunnels for a nuclear bunker beneath his Maryland home.

But a defense attorney for 27-year-old Daniel Beckwitt told jurors Wednesday that the deadly fire that killed Beckwitt’s friend was an accident, not a crime.

The jury heard opening statements for Beckwitt’s trial on charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the September 2017 death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra.

Montgomery County prosecutor Marybeth Ayres said Beckwitt created a “death trap” in his home, with mounds of trash blocking his escape.

Defense lawyer Robert Bonsib said Khafra was a willing participant in the project, even though he worked in the tunnels for days at time.

Source: Fox News National

The defense attorney for a Maryland man accused of planning an Islamic State-inspired attack at a shopping and entertainment complex near Washington, D.C., has asked a judge to be skeptical of authorities’ claims.

Michael CitaraManis said Tuesday that the government “is trying to fit certain facts into their narrative” that 28-year-old Rondell Henry intended to carry out a terrorist attack last month.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo refused to free Henry on bond after deciding the defendant poses a danger to the public if he’s released before trial.

Police arrested Henry on March 28 on a charge of driving a stolen vehicle across state lines. The charge carries up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors are expected to seek additional charges.

Source: Fox News National

A wealthy stock trader’s peculiar plan to build a nuclear bunker beneath his family’s Maryland home ended with a deadly fire. Now a jury will decide if the death of a 21-year-old man who perished in the September 2017 blaze was a crime.

Jury selection for Daniel Beckwitt’s trial is scheduled to start Monday in a Montgomery County courtroom. Beckwitt was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Askia Khafra.

Khafra was helping Beckwitt build a network of tunnels beneath the Bethesda home. Lawyers for the 27-year-old millionaire have said Khafra’s death was a tragic accident and that Beckwitt risked his own safety in a failed attempt to rescue his friend.

Source: Fox News National

A man once described by an FBI agent as the world’s largest "facilitator" of child pornography will remain held in U.S. custody after his extradition from Ireland, a federal magistrate ruled Wednesday.

A federal public defender representing Eric Eoin Marques, 33, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan in Maryland that his client isn’t currently challenging his detention, but reserves the right to seek bond later. A preliminary hearing for Marques is scheduled for April 8.

A criminal complaint accuses Marques of operating a web hosting service on the darknet that allowed thousands of users to view and share more than 1 million images of child pornography, including violent sexual abuse of prepubescent children.

The darknet is part of the internet but hosted within an encrypted network. It is accessible only through anonymity-providing tools, such as the Tor browser.

Marques, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland, has remained in custody since his August 2013 arrest in Dublin after an extradition request from the U.S.

During a 2013 bail hearing for Marques in Dublin, FBI Special Agent Brooke Donahue described him as "the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet," according to an article posted Saturday on Irish broadcaster RTE’s website. Donahue also testified that Marques had been searching online for information about obtaining a Russian visa and citizenship, RTE reported.

"He was trying to look for a place to reside to make it most difficult to be extradited to the United States," the FBI agent said.

Marques, who arrived in the U.S. last Saturday, fought his extradition for years. Irish authorities didn’t charge him with any related crimes.

"That decision was made notwithstanding that (Marques) had offered to plead guilty to at least some of the potential charges that might have been brought against him in Ireland," a justice on the Supreme Court of Ireland wrote in March 20 judgment rejecting his final appeal.

Marques hasn’t been indicted by a U.S. grand jury or entered any pleas. The charges in his criminal complaint include conspiracy to advertise child pornography and distribution of child pornography.

The complaint said he was suspected of operating a free, anonymous web hosting service on a network allowing users to access websites without revealing their IP addresses. In July 2013, according to the complaint, FBI agents in Maryland connected to the network and accessed a child pornography bulletin board with more than 7,700 members and more than 22,000 posts.

Agents downloaded more than 1 million files from another website on the network, nearly all of which depicted sexually explicit images of children, the complaint said.

Source: Fox News National

A Muslim-American radio host is asking a federal court in Ohio to award him more than $1 million in damages for his claims that a neo-Nazi website operator falsely accused him of terrorism.

Attorneys for SiriusXM Radio show host Dean Obeidallah said in a court filing Friday that they are seeking $250,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages from The Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin and his company.

Anglin hasn’t formally responded to the suit. Obeidallah’s lawyers are trying to secure a default judgment against Anglin and his company, Moonbase Holdings LLC.

Obeidallah’s lawsuit says Anglin falsely labeled him as the "mastermind" behind a deadly bombing at a concert in England. Obeidallah said Anglin libeled him, invaded his privacy and intentionally inflicted "emotional distress."

Obeidallah, a comedian and Daily Beast columnist, said he received death threats after Anglin published an article about him in June 2017. The site embedded fabricated messages in the post to make them seem like they had been sent from Obeidallah’s Twitter account, tricking readers into believing he took responsibility for the May 2017 terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, his lawsuit alleges.

"The emotional harm and anguish that I suffered as a result of the (article) was especially damaging because it undermined the dedication that I have shown to improving the image of Muslims and Arab-Americans in American culture," Obeidallah said in court filing Friday.

Fearing for his safety, Obeidallah said he changed his habits.

"I became concerned when walking around in public, and found myself having suspicious and nervous thoughts when passing strangers," he said. "Instead of interacting normally, I wondered if other people might be looking at me and thinking of me as a terrorist."

An earlier court filing by Obeidallah’s attorneys said Anglin’s father, Greg, testified that he helped his son collect and deposit between $100,000 and $150,000 in readers’ mailed donations over a five-year period. Obeidallah’s lawyers subsequently asked for the court’s authorization to subpoena financial records from three banks that Greg Anglin used to funnel donated money to his son.

Friday’s court filing says one of Anglin’s bank accounts received more than $198,000 in donations between February 2016 and October 2018. Obeidallah’s lawyers cited an estimate that Anglin has received more than $378,000 in bitcoin. He also used a crowdfunding website to raise more than $152,000 in donations to help pay for his legal expenses.

Anglin’s site takes its name from Der Stürmer, a newspaper that published Nazi propaganda. The site includes sections called "Jewish Problem" and "Race War."

Obeidallah is represented by attorneys from Muslim Advocates, a national legal and educational organization. They argued Anglin’s "refusal to participate in this proceeding, while mocking its existence, justifies an award of significant punitive damages."

Obeidallah’s case is one of three federal lawsuits filed against Anglin by targets of his racist and anti-Semitic trolling campaigns. Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh sued Anglin in April 2017, saying anonymous internet trolls bombarded her family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin published their personal information. Another lawsuit said Anglin directed his site’s readers to cyberbully a black college student, Taylor Dumpson, after she became the first black woman to serve as American University’s student government president.

Marc Randazza, an attorney defending Anglin against Gersh’s lawsuit, said in an email Monday that he hasn’t been retained to represent Anglin in Obeidallah’s case and isn’t following it.

Source: Fox News National


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