Erika Sifrit started tentatively, almost in a whisper.
"Can I apologize?" she asked one of her attorneys yesterday in court.
Certainly, the attorney told her: It was her turn to say what she wanted.
For several minutes, Sifrit -- showing not a hint of emotion -- had listened as relatives of a murdered Faifax City couple told a Frederick County judge about their loss, their grief and their anger since the killings in Ocean City, for which Sifrit, 25, and her husband were convicted. Then Sifrit had sobbed as her attorneys talked about her, telling the judge about a young girl who excelled in school, sports and the social graces in small-town Pennsylvania, but then became a convicted killer.
Now, before being sentenced, Sifrit wanted the judge to know how she felt.
"Everything they said to me, I deserve that and so much more," she said of the harsh words spoken about her by the victims' relatives. "I don't feel worthy to stand here and ask their forgiveness. I can't fathom their loss. . . .
"I am so sorry."
Saying that the clashing portraits of Erika Sifrit reminded him of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frederick County Circuit Court Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. sentenced her to life in prison plus 20 years for the murders of Joshua E. Ford, 32, and Martha M. Crutchley, 51, during Memorial Day weekend 2002. The victims' bodies had been cut up and thrown in a trash bin. Some of their remains were found in a Delaware landfill.
"These are senseless and horrible murders," Dwyer said. Prosecutors have said the Sifrits killed the couple for "a rush" and for "kicks."
"It's a tragedy for everyone," the judge said.
Dwyer said he believed that Sifrit's husband, Benjamin Sifrit, pulled the trigger in the killings. But the judge also said he agreed with the jury's verdict that Erika Sifrit was guilty of second-degree murder in Crutchley's death and being an accomplice to first-degree murder in Ford's slaying.
Dwyer said Sifrit seemed to be two people. There was the Erika Sifrit, nee Grace, who was a star basketball player and honors student at Hollidaysburg High School in Pennsylvania and a bright, promising history student at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg. And then there was the Erika Sifrit who vamped for photographs at the beach in Ocean City while wearing Ford's ring around her neck like a trophy, after his killing.
A Montgomery County judge last month sentenced Benjamin Sifrit, 25, to 38 years in prison for participating in the murders. He was found guilty of second-degree murder in Crutchley's death but cleared of criminal charges in Ford's killing. The Sifrits' separate trials were moved from the Eastern Shore because of publicity.
Members of Ford's and Crutchley's families said they did not believe Erika Sifrit's pleas of contrition.
"She's an actress," said Mark Ford, a brother of Joshua Ford.
Among the others who addressed the court were Ford's mother and sister and Crutchley's sister and stepdaughter. In a taunting gesture, each wore something purple -- a color that Sifrit banned from her home because it was the favorite hue of one her husband's former girlfriends. The Fords also wore lockets containing some of the ashes from Joshua Ford's cremated remains.
Melisa Ford told how her brother's murder came at what should have been the happiest time in her life: She was eight months pregnant. Her brother looked forward to meeting the child, and he called her often to make sure she was eating well and taking care of herself before the birth, she said. He was killed before Jackson Joshua was born June 28, 2002.
"I have such hatred in my heart for you," she told Sifrit. "You stole so much from my family. I hope you and your family are haunted every day by your actions."