- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

SNOW HILL, Md. (AP) A judge denied a motion yesterday to drop murder charges against a Pennsylvania woman accused in the killing of two Northern Virginia tourists in Ocean City on Memorial Day weekend.
Erika Sifrit's attorney, Arcangelo Tuminelli of Baltimore, tried to get the charges dropped on the basis of an agreement with Worcester County State's Attorney Joel Todd. The agreement was reached two days after Mrs. Sifrit and her husband, Benjamin Sifrit, were arrested as they tried to burglarize an Ocean City Hooters restaurant.
In a contentious six-hour hearing, the two lawyers demonstrated widely differing interpretations of their agreement, signed in the early hours of June 3. Later that day, two dismembered bodies in black plastic bags were found in a Delaware landfill.
The bodies are believed to be those of Martha Crutchley, 51, and her boyfriend, Joshua Ford, 32, both of Fairfax City. DNA tests to confirm the identifications are pending.
In charging documents, Ocean City police say Mrs. Sifrit admitted that her husband fatally shot Miss Crutchley and Mr. Ford, and that she helped him dump the remains in black plastic bags in a Rehoboth Beach, Del., trash bin. The Sifrits, both 24 and from Altoona, Pa., face first-degree murder charges in the deaths.
According to the lawyers' agreement, murder charges against Mrs. Sifrit were to be dropped if she took a polygraph test and testified against her husband. Mrs. Sifrit, who appeared in court in a pantsuit and leg shackles, briefly testified yesterday and reiterated this point. When asked if she was willing to waive her marital privilege to refuse to testify against her husband, she answered, "Most definitely, yes."
However, Mr. Todd said the agreement to drop the murder charges was nullified when she gave statements revealing to Secret Service agents that she played a larger role in the slayings than she had earlier indicated. Mrs. Sifrit "contradicted herself so many times I wasn't sure she had any value left as a witness," Mr. Todd said.
That revelation occurred during a five-hour interrogation just before the planned lie-detector test July 23, leading Worcester County Assistant State's Attorney Scott Collins to call it off.
Testimony yesterday did not reveal what Mrs. Sifrit told the Secret Service agents, but Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Smith said: "It makes her involved in the murders up to her neck."
Mr. Todd testified that when Mr. Tuminelli learned what his client had told the agents, "he looked like a deer being caught in the headlights."
Still, Mr. Tuminelli claimed that Mr. Todd broke the contract because he did not allow Mrs. Sifrit to take the polygraph.
Mr. Tuminelli said Mr. Todd had signed the deal in early June because he was anxious to pursue the death penalty against Mr. Sifrit, and Mrs. Sifrit's testimony against him was crucial evidence for that.
Mr. Tuminelli said Mr. Todd had "intense interest" at the time as to where the bodies had been dumped. Mr. Tuminelli had information on that, which he provided in exchange for an agreement that Mr. Todd would not pursue the death sentence or life without parole in prison for his client.
"I had to strike while the iron was hot," Mr. Tuminelli said. "I know they needed that information badly."
Mr. Todd should be stuck with that agreement regardless of what Mrs. Sifrit told the agents, Mr. Tuminelli said. "He got what he bargained for, but he doesn't like what he bargained for."
Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Theodore Eschenburg called that "spin."
Mrs. Sifrit made the agreement impossible to live up to when she told the agents "she had a much more active role than even her attorney knew," the judge said.
Judge Eschenburg did, however, uphold the part of the agreement that prevents the state from seeking the death penalty or life without parole for Mrs. Sifrit.
Her trial is scheduled for Dec. 2, but that date is subject to change because Mr. Tuminelli said yesterday that he will seek a change of venue because of pretrial publicity. Judge Eschenburg indicated he would grant that motion.

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