FREDERICK --Attorneys for Erika E. Sifrit offered her defense yesterday, calling a half-dozen witnesses as they attempted to show that her husband was the killer of two Ocean City tourists whose dismembered bodies were found in a Delaware landfill.
Meanwhile, in a surprise move, the prosecution decided to drop five charges against Sifrit, including accessory after the fact in the killings of 32-year-old Joshua Ford and his girlfriend, Martha Crutchley, 51.
The decision will force jurors to decide whether Erika Sifrit participated in the killings, and is guilty of murder, or should be cleared entirely in the homicides. The jury is expected to begin deliberations Monday.
Although prosecutors declined to comment on the strategy behind dropping the accessory charge, Anita Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Worcester County state's attorney's office, said, "The state believes it was in the best interest of justice."
Erika Sifrit is accused of killing Ford and Crutchley in an Ocean City condominium where she and her husband, Benjamin Sifrit, were staying over Memorial Day weekend last year.
Police arrested the couple during an apparent burglary at a Hooters restaurant. Four spent bullet casings and the identification cards of Ford and Crutchley were found in Erika Sifrit's purse. Tucked in her waistband was a .357-caliber Magnum revolver that has been identified as the murder weapon.
Benjamin Sifrit was convicted in April of second-degree murder in the slaying of Crutchley, but was cleared of charges in Ford's death. He was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact in both deaths. He is scheduled for sentencing July 7.
Erika Sifrit's defense team worked yesterday to put all of the blame for the crimes on her husband. They said the state presented little more than circumstantial evidence against her and never fingered her as the trigger person.
First the defense attempted to show that Benjamin Sifrit, a former Navy SEAL, had a penchant for violence. A Navy buddy, Michael McInnis, testified that Benjamin Sifrit once said he would "whack" McInnis' wife, cut up her body and toss the parts in garbage bins. That was a "joke" between two Navy men over beers, McInnis said.
Defense attorneys then called the owner of an Altoona, Pa., gun store where the .357-caliber Magnum was purchased. Owner Lawrence Hartman said the gun was registered to Benjamin Sifrit.
The defense concluded its case with Benjamin Sifrit's own words, both from his testimony in his trial and by calling Melissa Seling, who was the state's star witness in that trial.
Benjamin Sifrit had testified that he dismembered Ford and Crutchley with his wife's help, though he also contended that Erika Sifrit shot the couple.
Seling has said she did not previously know the Sifrits but accepted an invitation to go to their condo with a friend. Once there, she testified, Benjamin Sifrit threatened to kill them. She said he became frantic because his wife's purse was missing. "He got kind of out of control," Seling said.
Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, one of Erika Sifrit's attorneys, quoted a statement Seling gave to police. " `He said ... that if we had ripped them off, that he would kill us the same way he killed those other people.' Is that what you said?" Tuminelli asked.
"Yes," Seling responded. But she added, "I was not sure whether he murdered them, she murdered them or both."