Monday, July 7, 2003

A Montgomery County judge yesterday sentenced Benjamin Sifrit to 38 years in prison for killing and dismembering a Virginia tourist in Ocean City last year, calling him a “butcher” who killed for no apparent reason.

A visibly angry Circuit Judge Paul Weinstein also said he didn’t believe Sifrit’s story that his wife was the sole killer.

“This was nothing more than a thrill killing that you and your wife committed,” Judge Weinstein said while imposing the sentence, which included the maximum penalty of 30 years on the murder charge.

Sifrit, 25, was convicted in April of second-degree murder in the death of Martha Crutchley of Fairfax City. Miss Crutchley, 52, and her companion, Joshua Ford, 31, were killed and cut into pieces after a night of partying with Sifrit and his wife, Erika.

Judge Weinstein took the unusual step of criticizing the jury for failing to convict Sifrit of wrongdoing in Mr. Ford’s killing, saying it was one of the few times in his 20 years on the bench that he disagreed with a jury verdict.

Judge Weinstein said he would appear at any parole hearing for Sifrit to object to early release. Sifrit will not be eligible for parole until he has served at least half his sentence.

Sifrit sat stone-faced through much of the 45-minute hearing, even as Miss Crutchley’s relatives tearfully described their loss and pleaded with Judge Weinstein to impose the maximum penalty. Sifrit did not make a statement.

His attorney, William Brennan, said Judge Weinstein was “very understanding and fair” with his sentence.

Mr. Brennan said he would appeal the second-degree murder conviction.

Miss Crutchley’s relatives said the murder robbed them of “Geney,” a caring person who helped her sister deal with her husband’s death, loved her granddaughter dearly and planted roses with her stepdaughter.

“Geney’s murder has deprived me of my best friend, my most ardent supporter,” said her sister, Anita Flickinger of Phoenix.

Sifrit also pleaded guilty yesterday to robbing a Hooters restaurant in Ocean City just days after the murders. Judge Weinstein sentenced Sifrit to three years in prison for the crime as part of the overall 38-year sentence.

Police found Sifrit and his wife, both of Altoona, Pa., carrying merchandise out of the restaurant — an arrest that led to charges in the tourist murders.

Miss Crutchley and Mr. Ford’s driver’s licenses were in Erika Sifrit’s purse, as were several bullet casings. Erika Sifrit also wore Mr. Ford’s ring on a chain around her neck.

A search of the couple’s Rainbow Condominium suite turned up a key to Miss Crutchley and Mr. Ford’s condo, photos of the missing pair and a spent bullet with Mr. Ford’s DNA on it.

A former Navy SEAL, Sifrit acknowledged during his trial that he helped cut up Mr. Ford and Miss Crutchley in the bathroom and disposed of the body parts.

But he said he had been asleep in his Jeep when the couple were killed and pinned the murders on his wife, painting her as emotionally unstable and hooked on anti-anxiety drugs. Sifrit’s attorney referred to her as “Crazy Erika” during the trial.

A Montgomery County jury found Sifrit guilty of second-degree murder and assault against Miss Crutchley, and of being an accessory after the fact for cutting up and dumping the bodies. But he was cleared of murder and assault charges against Mr. Ford.

Erika Sifrit, 25, was convicted last month in Frederick County of first-degree murder for Mr. Ford’s death and second-degree murder for the killing of Miss Crutchley. She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison plus 45 years when she is sentenced Aug. 14.

Both trials were moved out of Worcester County because of pretrial publicity.

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