Trial opens in resort killings

Ex-Navy SEAL admitted shootings, prosecutor says

Man, woman killed in Ocean City

April 02, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE - A former Navy SEAL charged with murder in the deaths of two Ocean City tourists admitted to the killings a few days later to scare a woman he had just met, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Benjamin Sifrit, 25, "confessed" to Melissa Seling in his rented Ocean City condominium that he had recently fired shots through a bathroom door in the condo and killed the couple, Worcester County State's Attorney Joel J. Todd said during opening statements at Sifrit's trial.

"I killed them. I shot them right through that door," Todd quoted Sifrit as saying, based on Seling's account.

Sifrit and his wife, Erika, are charged with killing insurance executive Martha Gene Crutchley, 51, and her boyfriend, investment banker Joshua Ford, 32, whom the Sifrits met on an Ocean City bus on Memorial Day weekend last year. Parts of their dismembered bodies were found in a Delaware landfill.

Benjamin Sifrit is being tried in Montgomery County Circuit Court because of publicity in Worcester County. Erika Sifrit's trial is scheduled to begin June 2 in Frederick.

Todd told jurors yesterday that Benjamin Sifrit described the killings to Seling to frighten her as part of a "game" that he and his wife were playing.

Seling has told authorities that Benjamin Sifrit pointed out the bathroom door, which had least one bullet hole, and said, "See that?" Todd said.

Sifrit suggested that he might shoot Seling in the way he had killed the couple several days earlier, the prosecutor said.

But Benjamin Sifrit's attorney, William Brennan, argued that Erika Sifrit was the killer. He said Erika had emotional problems, often exhibited bizarre behavior that included "overt sexual overtures," and that her husband had difficulty keeping her "under control."

Erika Sifrit, a former standout basketball player and honors student at Mary Washington College, had a .357 Magnum in her waistband when she and her husband were arrested May 31. Ballistics evidence has tied the handgun to the bullets that killed Ford, Brennan said.

She also had spent bullet casings and the victims' driver's licenses in her handbag, according to testimony yesterday.

"Erika Sifrit committed the murders in this case," Brennan said. "That is what the evidence will show."

Todd said the couples initially met when Erika Sifrit didn't have correct bus change and Ford, whom she didn't know, offered to pay her fare. The four ended up drinking at a bar.

The party later moved to the two-story penthouse condominium, where Erika Sifrit accused Ford and Crutchley of trying to steal a purse containing an expensive ring she had been given by her grandmother, according to court records.

Erika Sifrit has told authorities that her husband, whom she called "B.J.," became angry and forced Ford and Crutchley into the bathroom, where he fired his gun at the door.

Todd told the jury that the scenario almost repeated itself several days later - this time with Seling as victim.

"Mrs. Sifrit stated to the defendant, `B.J., my purse is missing again,'" Todd said. The prosecutor said those statements sent Benjamin Sifrit into a rage - either mock or real. "The whole purse episode was a game, ladies and gentleman."

In defense, Brennan argued that Seling has told investigators she doesn't remember exactly what Benjamin Sifrit said that night. Under questioning, Seling couldn't say whether she heard him utter the words "I murdered" or whether he might have said "she murdered" or "we murdered," Brennan said.

Seling is expected to be called as a witness in the case, but Todd declined yesterday to say when. The trial is expected to last about a week and a half.

Todd said that after the killings, the Sifrits remained in the Ocean City area "tanning, drinking and partying."

The victims' bodies were in five or six pieces when discovered. Todd said Benjamin Sifrit had told a drinking buddy several years ago that "if he ever killed somebody, he would cut their bodies into six pieces." Todd said the friend would be called to testify.

Sifrit offered to "whack" the wife of the friend, Michael McInnis, also a Navy SEAL, saying he would cut her up and put the body parts in a trash bin, according to a statement by the friend, portions of which the judge read in court.

Judge Paul H. Weinstein ruled that he would not admit statements by Erika Sifrit that her husband had told her he might "waste" Ford and Crutchley, and that she should keep the bodies' locations quiet. Brennan had argued that the statements shouldn't be permitted because Erika Sifrit would not be present to be questioned about what was said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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