Friday, August 29 – Convicted Killer Taking Another Shot At New Trial

OCEAN CITY – Convicted killer Benjamin Sifrit, who, along with his wife Erika, brutally murdered and dismembered a Virginia couple vacationing in Ocean City on Memorial Day weekend in 2002, is expected to get another chance to plead his case next week with a bid for a new trial in Montgomery County.

In August 2005, over three years after the brutal double murder, Sifrit, through his attorney, filed a petition for post conviction relief, essentially asking for a new trial by claiming his legal counsel during his 2003 trial was ineffective. His petition for post conviction relief was originally scheduled for June 29, 2006, but it has been postponed or continued four times over the last two years. The hearing, during which Sifrit’s attorney, Michael Lawlor, will likely be seeking a new trial, is now set for next Thursday, Sept, 4 in Montgomery County, where he was originally tried after his case was moved from Worcester because of extensive pre-trial publicity in the sensational case.

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 investigator to the scene of the murders.

Following his trial in 2003, Benjamin Sifrit filed an appeal with the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, on two fronts. In one aspect of the appeal, Sifrit claimed his defense counsel during his initial trial was ineffective for several reasons including his attorneys failed to file an application for review of sentence by a three-judge panel; failed to file a motion for modification or reconsideration of his sentence; and perhaps most importantly, failed to put into evidence a statement he gave to police following his arrest in which he claimed not to know what had happened that night.

In the second aspect of his appeal, Sifrit claimed prosecutors unfairly presented conflicting theories about the circumstances of the double murder during the separate trials for him and his wife Erika. Essentially, Benjamin Sifrit complained prosecutors used one version of the facts to convict him at his trial in Montgomery County and a slightly different version at the trial of his wife, Erika, in Frederick County.

The Court of Appeals rejected Benjamin Sifrit’s appeals on both fronts, basically opining prosecutors in both trials were consistent in the presentation of the theory the couple acted as a team in the commission of both murders. After the high court rejected both convicted murderer’s appeals- Erika Sifrit also unsuccessfully appealed her conviction to the Court of Appeals- Benjamin Sifrit’s petition for post conviction relief scheduled for next Thursday in Montgomery County is a last ditch effort to overturn his conviction and gain a new trial, at least as far as the state of Maryland is concerned.

It appears unlikely a Montgomery County judge will agree to a new trial for Benjamin Sifrit at the post conviction relief hearing next Thursday, according to a source close to the long appeal process. However, a rejection in Montgomery Circuit Court next week would exhaust his appeal process in Maryland and could open to door for an attempt to have his case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.