An April 2 article about the murder trial of Benjamin Sifrit in Montgomery County incorrectly reported the type of tattoo that a prosecutor said Sifrit's wife, Erika, got after the slaying of a Fairfax County couple. It was a spitting cobra. (Published 4/3/03)
A few days after Erika and Benjamin Sifrit killed and dismembered a Fairfax County couple they met Memorial Day weekend, they befriended another couple and invited them back to their Ocean City condominium, where Benjamin Sifrit described the slaying, a prosecutor said yesterday.
In his opening statement at Benjamin Sifrit's murder trial, Worcester County State's Attorney Joel Todd told jurors that once back in their penthouse at the Rainbow Condominium, the Sifrits engaged in a chilling reprise of the events that led to the deaths of Martha M. Crutchley, 51, and Joshua E. Ford, 32: Erika Sifrit complained to Benjamin that her purse was missing, and the former Navy SEAL exploded in a drunken rage.
Benjamin Sifrit, 25, called the woman over to a bathroom door that had been removed from its hinges and leaned against a wall. He pointed to a bullet hole.
"You see that? We had another couple in here just a few nights ago who tried to rip us off. And I killed them. I shot 'em right through that door," Sifrit told the woman, according to the prosecutor. "People shouldn't go around ripping off other people off. The way I look at it is, if they're going to go around ripping other people off, then the earth doesn't need these kind of bad people wandering about. So I just did the earth a favor and got rid of these bad people."
Sifrit watched without expression as Todd described the scene based on the statement of Melissa Seling, who will testify later this week.
His trial was moved from Worcester County to Montgomery County Circuit Court because of heavy publicity. Erika Sifrit is to be tried separately later this year in Frederick County.
Todd portrayed the couple as equally involved in the slayings of Crutchley and Ford and equally coldblooded in the aftermath.
After dumping the bodies in the trash of a Food Lion supermarket in Rehoboth Beach, Del., the Sifrits treated themselves to strolls on the beach, feasts of steamed crabs, miniature golf, and dancing and partying at nightspots. Erika Sifrit got herself a Hooters tattoo, he said.
Within days, the couple were arrested while loading allegedly stolen merchandise from a Hooters into their Jeep Cherokee.
A search of their belongings and their rental unit turned up items that linked them to the slayings of Crutchley and Ford, including two bullets recovered from Ford's body, Todd said. Some of the victims' remains were later found at a Delaware landfill.
William C. Brennan Jr., one of Benjamin Sifrit's two attorneys, said his client was only a bystander to the killings.
He argued that Erika Sifrit had killed the couple in a frenzy fueled by alcohol, two anti-anxiety medications and diet pills, and that her husband dutifully helped her to hide the evidence.
The slaying weapon, a .357 Magnum revolver, was found tucked in the waistband of Erika Sifrit's pants when police arrested them, Brennan said.
Four empty .357-caliber shell casings were in a zippered compartment of her red Coach handbag. The purse also contained the victims' identification and a variety of pills, including Xanax, Paxil and dietary medications known as "yellowjackets." Erika Sifrit also kept a ring that belonged to Ford and strung it on a necklace.
Brennan said, "It is important that there is a moral distinction, a factual distinction and perhaps most important of all, a legal distinction" in Benjamin Sifrit's involvement before and after the killings. "The evidence will show that Erika Sifrit committed the murders in this case," he said.
The trial's first witness, Anne Carlino, an elementary school teacher, testified and then elaborated outside court as to how she and a former boyfriend, Jeffrey Heisey, met the Sifrits and the victims on a city bus May 25. The Sifrits lacked exact change for the fare, Carlino said, and Ford offered to pay for them. Sifrit offered to repay them with a drink, and the three couples headed to Seacrets, a popular nightspot.
While waiting in line, Heisey bought a six-pack of beer; only Erika Sifrit took one, she said.
Then Erika grabbed Heisey by the arm, went off behind a parked car and offered him drugs while Benjamin Sifrit watched.
"Don't you care if your wife runs off with a guy like that?" Carlino said she asked Benjamin Sifrit. He just shrugged. "There's nothing I can do about that," he told her.
Later, Erika Sifrit started flirting with her, Carlino said, stroking her arm and complimenting Carlino on her looks. Benjamin Sifrit seemed very drunk and unsteady on his feet, according to Carlino.
"When he looked at the disco ball, he wobbled back and forth," Carlino said.
"I made a couple of comments to him, like 'Stop looking at the lights. It's making you lose your balance.' "