OCEAN CITY – Convicted killer Erika Sifrit, who along with her husband, Benjamin, brutally murdered and dismembered a Virginia couple vacationing in Ocean City on Memorial Day weekend in 2002, will not get another day in court after startling revelations came to light during her post-conviction hearing earlier this year that added even more gruesome details to an already grisly incident.
The Sifrits, both originally from Hollidaysburg, Pa., were convicted in separate trials around the state in 2003 after the highly sensational cases were moved from Worcester County. Erika Sifrit received a life sentence plus 20 years for her role in the killings of Martha Crutchley and Joshua Ford, whose dismembered bodies were found in a Delaware landfill in the weeks after the murders.
Five years after her conviction and sentence, Erika Sifrit’s new attorney, Robert Biddle, last year filed a petition for post conviction relief and a request for a hearing for a new trial, citing the failings of her defense team in accurately portraying her as a manipulated victim of sorts in the crimes. Frederick County Circuit Court Judge Julie Stevenson Solt agreed to at least review the allegations spelled out in Biddle’s 15-page petition and hearings were held in December and February.
On Wednesday, however, the judge denied Erika Sifrit’s bid for a new trial in a 26-page order outlining a pattern of behavior by Erika Sifrit contrary to her attorney’s assertion his client was manipulated throughout the crimes and attempted cover-up including her denial of her husband’s request to cannibalize one of the victims.
In one startling revelation, Solt’s order included a statement Erika Sifrit made to an OCPD detective during which she said she refused Benjamin Sifrit’s request to cook and eat one of the victims’ legs. The judge said in her order denying a new trial that statement illustrated Erika Sifrit’s ability to reason and make decisions after the grisly turn of events. During the post-conviction hearings, Erika Sifrit’s attorney and expert witnesses attempted to paint a picture of her as pathologically devoted to her husband to the point she did not realize the implications of her actions on the fateful Memorial Day weekend in Ocean City.
The judge also wrote in her order Erika Sifrit told police she refused to take a picture of Benjamin Sifrit holding up the victim’s heads and ordered him to clean up the victim’s blood. In another revelation in the judge’s order, Erika refused to help her husband kill her family and steal their money, which never did happen, providing further evidence she was not blindly following her husband’s orders in their relationship.
The essence of Biddle’s request for post-conviction relief for Erika Sifrit hinges on the belief defense attorneys at her original trial did not fully explore her history of mental illness. In his petition for relief, Biddle outlines how Erika Sifrit was not mentally responsible for her part in the murders and points out the discovery of certain medications on her person at the time of her capture illustrate she was not fully capable of understanding what had occurred.
“By failing to obtain the necessary records, and by failing to provide those records to qualified experts, the defense missed the opportunity to show that Mr. Sifrit manipulated and controlled his wife, abused her psychologically to the point she lacked the capacity of a rational adult and became so extremely dependent on him that she would do anything he requested, regardless of the harm it caused,” the appeal read.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Sifrit’s bid for a new trial continues to move forward on a different course. In April, Benjamin Sifrit renewed his bid for a new trial, alleging prosecutors used inconsistent theories of the crimes in the separate trials of he and his wife. After exhausting an appeal process based on the claim his defense counsel was ineffective during his 2003 trial, Benjamin Sifrit has embarked on a different tack to get his conviction reversed and gain a new trial.
In September, Sifrit filed in U.S. District Court a writ for habeas corpus against the Maryland Attorney General and the warden of the facility where he is serving a 30-year sentence for the crime essentially alleging he is being held illegally and should be given a new trial because prosecutors presented inconsistent theories against he and his wife in their separate trials in 2003.
In March, the state’s attorney general filed a response to Sifrit’s motion for a new trial, asserting prosecutors used the same basic evidence in the separate trials and the convictions should be upheld. In April, however, Benjamin Sifrit filed a formal answer, reasserting he should be granted a new trial because prosecutors tailored the evidence and selected testimony in the different trials in order to gain convictions for both he and his wife.
“In each trial, the government put forth evidence and argued that the defendant on trial was the shooter while the other defendant was present but had minimal involvement in the crime,” the petition for a new trial reads. “As such, the inconsistencies could not have been more central to the government’s case and violated the petitioner’s right to due process.”