Panel Rejects Sifrit’s Latest Appeal

OCEAN CITY — Convicted killer Benjamin Sifrit, who, along with his wife Erika, brutally murdered and dismembered a Virginia couple vacationing in Ocean City in 2002, had his latest bid for a new trial rejected last week.

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 in the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2008 arguing the prosecution team, led by then Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd, used inconsistent theories of the events surrounding the crimes to gain the convictions of both he and his wife, Erika.

When Maryland’s highest court denied the petition, Sifrit last November filed a petition in U.S. District Court for a writ of habeas corpus against the Maryland Attorney General and the warden of the facility where he is serving a 38-year sentence, essentially arguing 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.

“This is a case where the issue presented has not been squarely addressed,” Sifrit wrote in his appeal. “It is an unusual situation because the facts concerning the claim have not been applied to the petitioner’s case. 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.”

A three-judge U.S. District Court panel agreed Benjamin Sifrit’s due process was not denied during his trial and denied his application for a certificate of appealability, which would have opened the door for a new trial had it been granted.

“When the district court denies relief on the merits, a prisoner satisfies this standard by demonstrating that reasonable jurists would find that the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims is debatable or wrong,” the order reads. “We have independently reviewed the record and conclude that Sifrit has not made the requisite showing. Accordingly, we deny a certificate of appealability, deny Sifrit’s request for appointment of counsel and dismiss the appeal.”

The federal court judges denied the appeal outright without any further testimony.

“We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the court and argument would not aide the decisional process,” the order reads.