- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

FREDERICK, Md. — “Crazy Erika,” they called her, a gun-toting, Xanax-snorting, snake-loving, obsessive, possessive shrew.

It was an effective defense for Benjamin Sifrit, whom a jury acquitted of one killing and convicted on a lesser murder charge in a second death. His attorneys implied during his trial that wife, Erika, not Benjamin, killed Martha Gene Crutchley and Joshua Ford at an Ocean City condominium during Memorial Day weekend last year.

Court documents suggest that prosecutors might borrow from Sifrit’s defense strategy in seeking convictions against Mrs. Sifrit at her two-week trial, which begins tomorrow with jury selection in Frederick County Circuit Court.

The Altoona, Pa., woman’s trial was moved to Frederick because of extensive publicity in Worcester County, where the killings occurred.

Mrs. Sifrit, 25, is “glad the trial has finally arrived,” said her attorney, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli. He declined to comment further.

He will defend her against two counts of first-degree murder, carrying a concealed handgun and theft less than $500. She also is charged with being an accessory after the fact for helping cut up and dispose of the bodies, parts of which were recovered from a landfill.

If convicted on all counts, Mrs. Sifrit faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole, under an agreement Mr. Tuminelli reached with prosecutors in June 2002. A Worcester County judge upheld the deal in September. The victims’ families opposed seeking the death penalty for the Sifrits, said Anita Ferguson, a spokeswoman for Worcester State’s Attorney Joel J. Todd.

A key piece of evidence is the gun, a five-shot, snub-nosed .357-caliber Magnum revolver that Ocean City police found in Mrs. Sifrit’s waistband at the time of her arrest. It is reported to be linked to three bullets taken from Mr. Ford’s body. Her purse contained a number of spent shell casings, as well identification belonging to Miss Crutchley, 51, and Mr. Ford, 32, of Fairfax.

Mrs. Sifrit told police her husband fired the gun and gave her the shell casings to show that it worked. He testified in April that he never fired the gun, which he said they bought together over the Internet. He said his wife was “obsessed” with the weapon.

Mr. Todd has subpoenaed some of the witnesses who testified during Sifrit’s trial about Mrs. Sifrit’s behavior and habits. They include Melissa A. Seling, who testified that Mrs. Sifrit showed off her pet cobras and talked about snorting anti-anxiety medicine. Miss Seling also testified that Sifrit told her he couldn’t control his pistol-packing spouse.

Mr. Todd might also call James and Tonya Faulkner of Virginia to testify about Mrs. Sifrit’s practice of carrying a pistol and her “propensity for violence,” according to court records.

The defendant and her husband have told vastly different versions of the killings.

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