OCEAN CITY –Convicted killer Benjamin Sifrit, who along with his wife Erika, brutally murdered and dismembered a Virginia couple vacationing in Ocean City nine years ago, made a renewed bid for a new trial this week after introducing an initial salvo in his most current appeal in U.S. District Court.
Benjamin Sifrit this week introduced a personally prepared informal brief in U.S. Court of Appeals outlining why he should be granted a new trial after his appeal for a writ of habeas corpus was denied last fall. Sifrit’s lengthy brief continues to urge the U.S. District Court to overturn its rejection of a bid for a new trial, arguing again the state used two different versions of the facts during his trial and the trial of his wife Erika in 2003.
“Benjamin Sifrit was denied due process of law and the right to a fair trial because the state used inconsistent factual theories to obtain convictions against both Benjamin and Erika Sifrit,” the introductory brief reads. “In arriving at the fact finding, the District Court considered improper evidence, ignored or erroneously excluded material evidence, or otherwise tried the facts in an incomplete or unfair manner.”
After exhausting an initial appeal process based on the claim his defense counsel was ineffective during his 2003 trial, Benjamin Sifrit embarked on a different tack in an attempt to get his conviction reversed and gain a new trial when he filed a petition with the Maryland Court of Appeals, arguing the prosecution team, led by then-Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd, used inconsistent theories of the events surrounding the crimes in order to gain the convictions of both he and his wife.
When the state’s highest court denied the petition, Benjamin Sifrit in September 2008 filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court against the Maryland Attorney General and the warden of the facility where he is serving a 38-year sentence, essentially alleging he is being held illegally and should be given a new trial because prosecutors presented inconsistent theories against he and his wife during their separate trials in 2003.
Last October, U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett struck down Sifrit’s bid for a new trial, which appeared to exhaust the convicted murderer’s appeal process. However, Sifrit quickly filed an appeal of that decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking to overturn the October denial. Sifrit’s informal brief, prepared and submitted by the defendant himself, continues to argue he should be given a new trial because different versions of the same facts were used by prosecutors during the two trials in 2003.
“At Mr. Sifrit’s trial, the state argued the petitioner killed the two victims and was in control of the events surrounding the victims’ deaths,” the brief reads. “At the subsequent trial of Erika Sifrit, the state argued that Erika killed the two victims.”
In April 2003, Benjamin Sifrit was convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree assault and accessory after the fact for his part in the killing of Martha Crutchley in an Ocean City condominium on Memorial Day weekend in 2002 and was sentenced to 38 years in jail. His wife, Erika, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Joshua Ford, and second-degree murder in the death of Crutchley in a separate trial in Frederick, Md. that same year and was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.
The Sifrits lured Crutchley and Ford back to their Ocean City condo after spending the evening with them at a resort nightclub before brutally murdering them and dismembering the bodies, parts of which were found in a Delaware landfill nine days later.
The couple was caught during a botched attempt at a burglary in Ocean City nearly a week later and the trail of evidence led investigators to the scene of the murders.
In the days following the brutal murders, the Sifrits’ allegedly lured another couple back to the same condo and attempted to duplicate the phony stolen purse story, during which Benjamin Sifrit told the female, Melissa Selig, he and his wife had killed two people earlier for allegedly swiping the purse and even pointed to the bullet holes in the bathroom door. Selig and her male companion were able to flee the condo without incident.
According to Sifrit’s brief, the state admitted Melissa Seling was its best witness against Benjamin Sifrit. The state’s attorney introduced Benjamin’s alleged confession through Seling’s testimony and the fact Benjamin Sifrit had confessed to Seling was crucial to the state’s case against him. Then, in another courtroom eight weeks later, after winning a conviction in Benjamin Sifrit’s case, the state’s attorney argued there was no such confession.
For that reason alone, Benjamin Sifrit argued in the brief filed this week he should be granted a new trial.
“The jury was out for days,” the brief reads. “Most of the charges against Benjamin were returned not guilty. The evidence supporting a guilty finding on one count of second-degree murder is little. In light of the closeness of this case, these errors are substantial.”