Witness says threats were `almost a living nightmare'

Sifrit told her he killed 2 in O.C., woman testifies

April 04, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- A witness at the double-murder trial of former Navy SEAL Benjamin Sifrit described yesterday how, several days after the killings, Sifrit put her through "almost a living nightmare" by displaying a gun and threatening "to kill me in the same way he killed those two people."

Melissa Seling testified that Sifrit seemed to be trying to intimidate her in May after inviting her and a friend, Justin Todd Wright, to the same Ocean City condominium where prosecutors allege two Virginia tourists were slain by Sifrit a few nights earlier.

Seling, of Ocean View, Del., said she had not previously met Sifrit but ended up at his rented condo May 29 because Wright had been drinking with him and she decided to tag along.

Apparently to scare her, Sifrit "referred to killing two people. He referred to ridding the earth of these bad people," Seling testified.

During the evening, the defendant put his hands near her face and showed her that he had a gun, Seling said. She said Sifrit's wife, Erika, showed her two large pet snakes.

She testified that at one point, Erika Sifrit said, "Let's jump in this Jacuzzi and drive these boys crazy" -- a statement that Seling took as an invitation to have sex with her. Seling said she made an excuse about not having a bathing suit.

Though she had just met Erika, Seling testified that she felt leery about her. Sifrit said that his wife, a former honors student at Mary Washington College in Virginia, "packs heat and that she would kill a cop," Seling said.

Of the evening, Seling testified: "I had never been in a situation where I felt my life threatened. To me, it was almost a living nightmare."

Today will be the fifth day in Benjamin Sifrit's trial in the murders of Martha Gene Crutchley, 51, and her boyfriend, Joshua Ford, 32, during the Memorial Day weekend. Erika Sifrit is also charged in the murders and is to stand trial June 2 in Frederick. Both cases were moved from Worcester County because of pre-trial publicity.

Worcester County State's Attorney Joel Todd says both of the victims' families asked him not to seek the death penalty and that he complied with their wishes.

William Brennan, one of Sifrit's defense attorneys, used his cross-examination yesterday to suggest that Seling was not clear on exactly what Sifrit told her that night.

Under questioning, Seling said she was not certain whether the defendant had said "I killed," "she killed" or "we killed." But, Seling said, "He told me in so many words that he was involved in the murder of these two people."

Today, Circuit Judge Paul H. Weinstein will decide whether to permit the testimony of a drinking buddy of Sifrit's who has told investigators that he had a conversation with the defendant several years ago in which Sifrit talked in detail about the art of killing -- how he would chop a body up.

The defense has argued that the conversation is irrelevant -- simply musings over beers. But the prosecution says it should be allowed as evidence because the Virginia victims' bodies were cut into pieces.

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