Jury begins deliberations in Ocean City killings

April 09, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE - Jurors began deliberating first-degree murder charges against former Navy SEAL Benjamin Sifrit yesterday after prosecutors derided his story of being asleep in a car while his wife killed two Ocean City tourists last year.

After four hours, Judge Paul H. Weinstein sent the jury home for the night with instructions to resume deliberations today.

In yesterday's closing arguments, prosecutors called Sifrit a "trained killer" with a "selective memory" about his alleged role in the slayings and dismemberment of Martha Gene Crutchley, 51, and her boyfriend, Joshua Ford, 32, both of Fairfax, Va., during the Memorial Day weekend.

Joel J. Todd, the lead prosecutor, mocked Sifrit, referring to him sarcastically as "our hero" and saying of him and his wife, Erika: "This is a regular Ozzie and Harriet we've got here, isn't it?"

Sifrit, 25, has sought to blame the killings on his wife, with whom he eloped in 1999 while she was a student at Virginia's Mary Washington College. He testified Monday that he was in his Jeep Cherokee sleeping off a night of drinking when Erika Sifrit awoke him and led him to the bloody bodies of Ford and Crutchley in the condominium where the Sifrits were staying.

The two couples had met on a bus and ended up back at the condo. Prosecutors say the Sifrits decided to play some sort of "game" in which Ford and Crutchley ended up as prey.

But defense attorney William Brennan said Benjamin Sifrit was in his Jeep during the killings, while Erika Sifrit was in the condo "using her .357 Magnum." Telephone records show she repeatedly checked her voice mail that night - likely, Brennan said, because she didn't know where Benjamin Sifrit had gone and was hoping he would check in.

"That is the person who committed the murders in this case," Brennan said as a photo of Erika Sifrit appeared on a video screen. Erika Sifrit is to stand trial in the slayings in Frederick in June. Both cases were moved from Worcester County because of pretrial publicity.

Todd disputed the notion that Erika Sifrit could have acted alone in the killings. "Erika Sifrit is a nut," he said. "But this does not mean that she committed these murders by herself."

He led the jury through a scenario in which Benjamin Sifrit allegedly trapped Ford and Crutchley in the master bathroom. Based on the location of his bullet wounds, Todd said, Ford was probably leaning against the door when Sifrit shot a hole through, hitting Ford in the torso. "Bang!" Todd shouted, flailing backward in front of the jury.

Watching Todd's re-enactment of the prosecution's version of events, Ford's brother Mark put his head in his hands as he sat on a courtroom bench.

Ford suffered two additional bullet wounds, which prosecutors believe were inflicted by Benjamin Sifrit. It is a "reasonable inference" that Erika Sifrit, likely not as skilled a marksman, fired a stray bullet that appears to have missed its target and was recovered inside the condo, Todd said.

Todd said he couldn't say for sure, though, who fired the shots that killed Ford. "I'll never know and you'll never know who pulled the trigger that night," he said. But he said the evidence was clear that each of the Sifrits had fired the gun or "aided and abetted," which is enough for a first-degree murder conviction.

Prosecutors don't know how Crutchley was killed because not enough of her body was recovered for analysis. So much blood was found in the condo that authorities speculate that she may have been stabbed.

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