Suspect's statements on killings inadmissible

In plea deal, woman had told police husband shot couple in Ocean City

February 13, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK -- Prosecutors preparing to try a woman in an Ocean City double-homicide won't be allowed to admit statements in which she says her husband shot a Virginia couple and deposited their plastic-wrapped bodies in a trash bin.

Circuit Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. ruled yesterday that the statements made by Erika Sifrit, 25, to a detective last year can't be introduced as evidence because they were made under a deal in which the state was to drop a burglary charge against her in exchange for her cooperation.

Under the plea agreement, Sifrit was to lead investigators to the bodies of Martha Gene Crutchley, 51, and her boyfriend, Joshua Ford, 32, of Fairfax City, Va. The couple disappeared from a condominium in the resort town at the beginning of last summer.

E. Scott Collins, deputy state's attorney for Worcester County, argued during yesterday's pretrial hearing that Sifrit broke the deal by telling "absolute lies" about such details as the bodies' location.

Investigators said she told them several times that she was worried about betraying her husband, Benjamin, a former Navy SEAL with a swastika tattooed to his chest. Defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli conceded yesterday that while his client cooperated with authorities, not all of her statements to the detective were "the whole and complete truth."

"The state kept its contract. The defense did not," Collins told Dwyer.

Dwyer ruled the state was still bound to its promise not to introduce the statements at her trial, which begins June 2. The judge said, however, he would admit other contested evidence against Sifrit.

The evidence against Sifrit includes a pistol tucked into her pants when she and her husband were apprehended May 31 while allegedly looting a Hooters restaurant in Ocean City, according to prosecutors. Officers say they found driver's licenses belonging to the homicide victims in Sifrit's purse.

The defense argued yesterday that evidence obtained from the purse should not be admitted because it was discovered inadvertently.

According to police, the purse was searched at the restaurant when Sifrit asked an officer to look there for her anti-anxiety medication. She had told an officer she was having "a panic attack," according to yesterday's testimony.

But Dwyer said the search was reasonable, and he declined to toss out the evidence.

Benjamin Sifrit's trial is scheduled for March 31 in Montgomery County. Both trials were moved from the Eastern Shore because of extensive publicity.

The motives for the killings are unclear. According to court records, Erika Sifrit has suggested her husband was obsessed with power and "agreed with Hitler's beliefs."

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