Federal Judge Denies Ben Sifrit’s Latest Appeal

OCEAN CITY – Convicted killer Benjamin Sifrit, who, along with his wife Erika, brutally murdered a Virginia couple vacationing in Ocean City on Memorial Day weekend in 2002, this week had his latest attempt at an appeal shot down by a federal court judge.

After U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett struck down Sifrit’s bid for a new trial in late October, the convicted killer embarked on a new path, filing an appeal last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District, using the same basic argument as his earlier attempts. Throughout the lengthy appeal process, Sifrit has argued he was denied his right to due process because prosecutors presented inconsistent theories against he and his wife during their separate trials in 2003. Essentially, Sifrit argued prosecutors used slightly different versions of the same facts during the two trials in order to get convictions for both defendants.

After his latest appeal was denied on Oct. 21 at the U.S. District Court level, Sifrit quickly filed an appeal for relief from the higher U.S. Court of Appeals, arguing the same basic premise. However, Judge Bennett this week issued an order denying Sifrit the “certificate of appealability” needed to move forward with his appeal to the higher court.

“A habeas petitioner has no absolute entitlement to appeal a district court’s denial of his motion,” the judge’s order reads. “A certificate of appealability may issue only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. A petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.”

In his order, Bennett said Sifrit had not met the requirements for the court to issue the certificate. However, he did not entirely close the door on any future appeal.

“This court will not issue a certificate of appealability because Sifrit has not made the requisite showing,” the judge’s order reads. “Denial of a certificate of appealability does not prevent Sifrit from seeking a certificate of appealability from the appellant court.”

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.