Ex-Navy SEAL takes stand in friend's trial

Va. man says Sifrit spoke to him in 1999 about ways to dismember bodies

April 05, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- Former Navy SEAL Benjamin Sifrit, on trial in the death and dismembering of a Virginia couple in Ocean City last year, once detailed to a friend how he would chop up a body to dispose of it if he ever killed someone, the friend testified yesterday.

Michael McInnis of Virginia Beach, Va., described a conversation that he said he had with Sifrit at a strip bar in 1999, when both were SEALS. Sifrit said, hypothetically that he would put down plastic, chop off the limbs and head with a knife, and place the body parts in separate bags, according to McInnis.

The prosecution said it called McInnis -- the state's final witness in the trial that began Monday -- because of similarities between what was described in the conversation and what Sifrit is accused of doing three years later.

Circuit Judge Paul Weinstein rejected arguments by Sifrit's attorney, William Brennan, that the conversation should not be considered by the jury because it was merely "a conversation at a strip joint over beers."

McInnis had previously told authorities that the conversation with Sifrit included talk of killing McInnis's wife. But Sifrit's attorney said in court yesterday: "That was a joke."

Under Brennan's questioning, McInnis said he agreed with the defense lawyer's assessment that the conversation amounted to "some SEALS blowing off steam."

Sifrit, of Altoona, Pa., is charged with the murders of Martha Gene Crutchley, 51, and her boyfriend, Joshua Ford, 32, both of Fairfax, Va., during Memorial Day weekend last year. Witnesses testified that Sifrit and his wife, Erika, met the victims on a bus and spent an evening with them at a bar and at the Sifrits' condominium.

Parts of Ford's and Crutchley's bodies were found a week later in a Delaware landfill. Erika Sifrit told authorities that her husband put the body parts in garbage bags and deposited them in garbage bins.

Lab tests of Ford's torso concluded that he had been shot, but police couldn't determine how Crutchley died.

The prosecution, during four days of testimony, sought to link the defendant to Crutchley's death by submitting evidence that her blood was found spattered around the Sifrits' condominium.

Ballistics evidence links Ford's gunshot wounds to a .357 Magnum handgun registered to Benjamin Sifrit, and it was found tucked in his wife's pants when the pair were arrested May 26, according to court records.

Erika Sifrit, 25, is also charged in the killings and is scheduled to stand trial June 2 in Frederick. Both cases were moved from Worcester County because of pretrial publicity.

The defense began its case yesterday and is to continue calling witnesses Monday. Brennan is expected to focus, in part, on trying to counter testimony by a woman who told the jury that Benjamin Sifrit admitted his involvement in the killings after inviting her and a friend to the condo. Sifrit's statements to the woman, Melissa Seling, are "tantamount to a confession," prosecutor Scott Collins has said.

Brennan won't say whether he will call Benjamin Sifrit to the stand.

As part of the defense, a tape was played yesterday of a 911 call from the night of the killings in which Erika Sifit says, `There are people in my house that I don't know, and my purse is suddenly missing. I am upstairs in the bedroom where they don't know where I am."

The significance of the tape has not yet been explained to the jury.

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