- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

FREDERICK, Md. — Prosecutors rested their case yesterday in the trial of a Pennsylvania woman accused of killing and dismembering a Virginia couple she and her husband met during a night of Ocean City bar-hopping.

Frederick County Circuit Judge G. Edward Dwyer then acquitted defendant Erika E. Sifrit of one of the charges, a handgun violation, ruling the state had not proven that victim Martha M. Crutchley was shot.

Defense attorneys Arcangelo M. Tuminelli and Thomas R. Ceraso were to start presenting evidence this morning. They claim Mrs. Sifrit’s husband, Benjamin, killed Miss Crutchley, 51, and Joshua E. Ford, 32, of Fairfax.

The defense lawyers haven’t said whether Mrs. Sifrit, 25, of Duncansville, Pa., will testify, but they do plan to call at least two witnesses who testified against Benjamin Sifrit at his trial two months ago in Montgomery County.

The former Navy SEAL was convicted April 9 of second-degree murder for Miss Crutchley’s death but acquitted of killing Mr. Ford. He implied at his trial that his wife was the killer.

The state rested yesterday on the third day of testimony without offering a motive for the May 26, 2002, slayings. The only motive mentioned in court documents is a statement Mr. Tuminelli attributed to Mrs. Sifrit that Benjamin Sifrit killed the couple “for a rush.”

Parts of the victims were found in a landfill in nearby Sussex County, Del. Mr. Ford’s torso contained two bullets, but investigators don’t know how Miss Crutchley died, because only her left leg was recovered.

The state’s last witness was Maryland State Police ballistics expert Joseph Kopera, who testified the bullets that killed Mr. Ford came from a Smith & Wesson revolver Ocean City police found tucked into Mrs. Sifrit’s waistband when they caught the Sifrits while responding to a burglary call at a Hooters restaurant five days after the killings.

The gun, four bullets and four matching shell casings found in Mrs. Sifrit’s purse are the strongest evidence of her involvement in the slayings. Her purse also contained the victims’ driver’s licenses and a ring belonging to Mr. Ford that bore traces of both victims’ blood. Worcester County Assistant State’s Attorney E. Scott Collins said Mrs. Sifrit wore the ring on a necklace “like a trophy.”

After the state rested, Mr. Tuminelli asked Judge Dwyer to acquit Mrs. Sifrit of the two first-degree murder charges as well as two counts each of assault and handgun violations, contending prosecutors hadn’t proven their case. The judge agreed they hadn’t proven the handgun count in Miss Crutchley’s death, but said the jury should decide the rest of the charges.

Earlier yesterday, jurors heard a 911 call recorded the night of the killings of a woman believed to be Mrs. Sifrit saying she thought she was about to be robbed. The call came from the Rainbow Condominium penthouse where the victims died. At Benjamin Sifrit’s trial, prosecutors said Mrs. Sifrit made the call as part of a scheme for explaining reported gunshots.

“There are people in my house who I don’t know, and my purse is suddenly missing, and I’m afraid I’m going to have a robbery up here,” the woman says in a slightly slurred voice. “I’m upstairs in a bedroom and they don’t know where I am.”

The call was then transferred from the Worcester County emergency services center to the Ocean City 911 center, and the woman says, “There are people in the apartment, a lot of people.” She then says she thinks a third person is on the line, asks for an alternative phone number, and hangs up.

No evidence was presented of any police response to the call.

Benjamin Sifrit’s defense lawyers introduced the tape at his trial to support their theory that Mrs. Sifrit, whom they called “Crazy Erika,” killed the Fairfax couple in a rage over an imagined robbery.

Mrs. Sifrit’s trial was moved to Frederick from Worcester County due to heavy news coverage of the case on the Eastern Shore.

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