Claiming that prosecutors broke a deal not to prosecute her for murder if she cooperated with police, lawyers for Erika Sifrit asked the state's highest court yesterday to overturn her conviction in the killing and dismemberment of two tourists in Ocean City.
Within moments, lawyers for Benjamin Sifrit took their turn before the Maryland Court of Appeals, asking that his conviction be erased because, they said, prosecutors gave two theories of the killings.
Prosecutors said the couple killed Martha Crutchley, 51, and Joshua Ford, 32, both of Fairfax, Va., for fun over Memorial Day weekend 2002 in the penthouse where the Sifrits were staying. Both trials were moved from Ocean City because of media publicity.
A Frederick County jury convicted Erika Sifrit, a one-time honor student and college basketball player, of first-degree murder in Ford's death and second-degree murder in Crutchley's death. She was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.
A Montgomery County jury convicted Benjamin Sifrit, then 25, of second-degree murder in the death of Crutchley. He was sentenced to 38 years in prison, but was cleared in Ford's death amid uncertainty over who fired the fatal shots.
Erika Sifrit's attorneys contended yesterday that the state reneged on an agreement not to prosecute her for murder if she provided solid information and if a lie-detector test showed she was telling the truth about her involvement.
Andrew H. Baida, one of her lawyers, told the seven-judge court that once his client helped police find the bodies, prosecutors backed out of the deal. "The state never gave her an opportunity to get hooked up" to the polygraph machine, he said.
Assistant Attorney General Diane E. Keller said Erika Sifrit did not live up her side of the agreement. "She had represented ... that she was not involved with the actual killings" in her earlier statements, but only with the cleanup, Keller told the judges. She changed her statements during pre-polygraph questioning and "unexpectedly told the examiners that she had an active role in the murders," according to Keller's written arguments.
What she said is the subject of conjecture because the answers that Erika Sifrit gave to the pre-polygraph questions are sealed. But three questions went to the heart of her involvement in the killings, asking her whether she shot or cut the victims and if she in any way planned the killings, according to court documents.
In an earlier interview by police, made public at her sentencing, Erika Sifrit gave chilling details about her husband in the aftermath of the killing of Crutchley, 51, and Ford, 32.
She said her husband held the head of each victim in one hand and asked her to take his picture. She said she refused.
She also told police that her husband said he wanted to shoot a black person. "He's like, you've gotta kill where there's no motive," she said, according to the transcript.
Attorneys for Benjamin Sifrit, a former Navy SEAL, raised a separate issue. Assistant Public Defender Stacy W. McCormack argued that Joel Todd, the Worcester County state's attorney, told the jury hearing his case that Sifrit bought the gun used in the killings for himself, had long planned the killings and admitted committing them.
Two months later, the same prosecutors told the jury hearing Erika Sifrit's case that he bought the gun for his wife and that the conversation about murder was not a plan but a way to relieve stress, and that he hadn't confessed.
Keller countered that prosecutors consistently told both juries that both Sifrits were responsible for the killings.
There is no deadline for the court's decisions in the cases.