Sifrit says he aided coverup but did not commit killings

Ex-Navy SEAL on trial in Ocean City deaths of 2

April 08, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE - Former Navy SEAL Benjamin Sifrit, on trial in a double-murder case, testified yesterday that he was in his car sleeping off a night of drinking while the slayings were committed - apparently by his wife - and that he helped her cover up the crime by dismembering the bodies.

Taking the stand in his defense, Sifrit, 25, admitted to being an accessory - but nothing more - to the Ocean City killings during Memorial Day weekend last year.

He said his wife, Erika, also 25, roused him from his car in the middle of the night and led him into the condominium penthouse where they were staying. There, he said, he came upon the "horrific" sight of two people - Martha Gene Crutchley, 51, and her boyfriend, Joshua Ford, 32, both of Fairfax, Va. - lying dead and bloodied in the master bathroom.

Sifrit said he decided against surrendering his wife to police, an action he said would have been tantamount to "abandoning" her. "I could do basically two things. I could either help my wife or not help her," he said. "I decided to help her cover up the murders."

He said he regrets the decision now.

Erika Sifrit has told investigators a different story. She said it was Benjamin Sifrit who killed Crutchley and Ford. She said he forced the couple - with whom the Sifrits had been partying - into the bathroom at gunpoint and shot them, then dismembered the bodies and placed them in a half-dozen plastic bags.

Erika Sifrit is in jail awaiting a separate double-murder trial, scheduled to begin June 2 in Frederick.

The prosecution did not use her as a witness, though she had offered information implicating her husband in the killings last year.

As part of a planned plea bargain, she had described how her husband had told her he might "waste" Ford and Crutchley and that she should keep the location of the bodies quiet.

The plea negotiations fell apart, however, when prosecutors alleged Erika Sifrit broke the deal by telling them "absolute lies" about critical details such as the bodies' locations. (The remains were found in a Delaware landfill.)

Benjamin Sifrit's testimony yesterday contradicted not only his wife's statements from last year but also those of a witness who told the jury last week that Benjamin all but confessed to the killings several days after they were committed.

Melissa Seling testified that she and a friend were invited to the condo by the Sifrits on May 29, and that Benjamin threatened "to kill me in the same way he killed those two people." Seling said he put his hands near her face and showed her a gun.

Sifrit suggested Seling's testimony was flawed. He said he did show her a gun that he had in his waistband but only to explain how it worked.

Sun staff writer Michael Ollove contributed to this article.

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