- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

FREDERICK, Md. — Erika Sifrit’s lawyers attacked the state’s contention yesterday that she wore a murdered man’s ring on a neck chain as a souvenir of her crimes.

As jurors examined dozens of photos, defense attorney Thomas Ceraso fired a dizzying series of questions at a crime scene investigator on the witness stand, challenging his statement that two of the pictures showed Mrs. Sifrit wearing Joshua Ford’s silver ring on a necklace.

Ocean City Police Detective Clinton Chamberlain finally acknowledged he couldn’t say for sure that the ring shown in the photos was the same one police found in Mrs. Sifrit’s purse. Mr. Ford’s brother, Mark, has identified that ring, with a carved dragon design, as his brother’s.

“You can’t say that the ring that is shown here is that ring, right?” Mr. Ceraso asked.

“Not positively,” Detective Chamberlain replied.

Mr. Ceraso’s questions were aimed at deflating Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel J. Todd’s contention that Mrs. Sifrit, 25, kept evidence from the slayings of Mr. Ford and his girlfriend, Martha Crutchley, just as she collected Hooters merchandise and keepsake jewelry.

Yesterday was the second day of testimony in a trial stemming from charges that Mrs. Sifrit and her husband, Benjamin, of Duncansville, Pa., killed and dismembered the vacationing Fairfax couple in the bathroom of a penthouse condominium May 26, 2002, after meeting them on a bar-hopping tourist bus. Only partial remains were found, in a nearby Delaware landfill.

Benjamin Sifrit, a former Navy SEAL, was convicted April 9 of second-degree murder for the death of Miss Crutchley, 51, but he was acquitted of killing Mr. Ford, 32. He implied at his trial that his wife was the killer.

Her attorneys say he killed them both. Mrs. Sifrit has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, burglary, theft, carrying a concealed handgun and being an accessory after the fact, but her attorneys don’t dispute that she helped cover up the slayings.

The trial was moved from Worcester to Frederick County due to heavy publicity in the Ocean City area.

Mrs. Sifrit, a waiflike high-school basketball star who graduated with honors from Mary Washington College, wept during a break in the trial yesterday after waving to her parents in the gallery and silently mouthing them a message. She was mainly attentive during the proceedings, often conferring with her attorneys and taking notes.

When witness John Minka, a tattoo artist from Lewes, Del., was called to the stand she was visibly more concerned, frowning and furrowing her brow.

Mr. Minka was called to testify that he tattooed a spitting cobra on Mrs. Sifrit’s hip, a spot where prosecutors believe she stabbed Miss Crutchley.

Another witness, Ann E. Wright of Westminster testified she met Mrs. Sifrit at a Home Depot store in Ocean City two days after the killings. She said Mrs. Sifrit was carrying a triangular piece of wood, apparently from the apartment’s bathroom door, which prosecutors say was damaged during the killings.

Miss Wright testified that Mrs. Sifrit said, “Do you believe that’s all that’s left of my door?”

“I said, ‘That must have been some party,’” Miss Wright testified.

She said Mrs. Sifrit then laughed and said, “I guess you could call it that.”

Earlier in the day, legal technicalities prevented both sides from introducing potentially strong material.

Prosecutors raised hearsay objections, which Frederick County Circuit Judge G. Edward Dwyer twice sustained, after Mr. Ceraso asked an Ocean City police officer, “Did she tell you that she was just doing what she had been told to do?”

Mr. Ceraso told jurors in his opening statement that they would hear testimony that the defendant’s husband, “directed her to do certain acts,” apparently implying she was under his control.

Another evidentiary rule prevented Mr. Todd from asking witness Nicholas Ortt, a bouncer at the Seacrets nightclub in Ocean City, to repeat a story that was part of his testimony in Benjamin Sifrit’s trial.

Mr. Ortt had testified that several days after the slayings, Mrs. Sifrit waved a gun and threatened to shoot him after he caught Benjamin Sifrit tampering with an automated teller machine.

Such testimony was barred from Mrs. Sifrit’s trial by the “other bad acts” rule, which prevents prosecutors from presenting potentially prejudicial evidence about a defendant that isn’t directly related to the charges.

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