Judge calls Sifrit 'butcher,' gives him 38 years in prison

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ROCKVILLE - A remorseless Benjamin Sifrit was sentenced to 38 years in prison yesterday by a judge who called him "a butcher" and said he disagreed with the jury that found the former Navy SEAL guilty of only one murder in Ocean City last year.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Paul H. Weinstein suggested that he was itching to give Sifrit more prison time for what the judge termed the "thrill killing" of insurance executive Martha Crutchley, 51.

But a jury declined April 9 to return a verdict of first-degree murder against Sifrit, instead finding him guilty of second-degree murder in Crutchley's death and clearing him in the killing of her boyfriend, mortgage banker Joshua Ford, 32.

The judge said it was "one of the few instances in 20 years that I disagreed with the jury's verdict."

Looking at Sifrit, Weinstein likened the murders and the dismembering of the bodies to Holocaust slaughters. "You're a butcher. You cut these people up for no reason," the judge said.

Had it not been for a "masterful" job by the defense team of William Brennan and Burton Anderson, Weinstein said, "you would probably be facing a life sentence."

Sifrit, 25, looked back at the judge with an unflinching gaze. He will be eligible for parole after serving half of the 38 years.

He declined Weinstein's invitation to make a statement, even after Crutchley's relatives pointed out that he has never expressed remorse.

Worcester County prosecutors alleged that Sifrit and his wife, Erika, met Ford and Crutchley, both of Fairfax, Va., on an Ocean City bus during Memorial Day weekend last year. The Sifrits went with the couple to a bar, lured them back to a penthouse condominium and then killed them "for fun," prosecutors said.

Lead prosecutor Joel J. Todd told Weinstein yesterday that Benjamin Sifrit is "a wicked, evil, reprehensible human being."

"He needs to be warehoused because he cannot be rehabilitated," said Todd, who noted that Sifrit owned snakes named Hitler, HIV, Bonnie and Clyde, and had a swastika tattoo on his chest.

Benjamin Sifrit suggested at his trial that his wife was the killer. He testified that he was napping in his car while she, Crutchley and Ford went off together. He said he was roused by his panicked wife and led to the bodies in the master bathroom. He testified that he decided to help her by chopping up the bodies but that he wasn't involved in the killings. The revolver that killed Ford was found in Erika Sifrit's waistband when they were arrested five days after the murders.

Erika Sifrit, a one-time honor student and college basketball player, was found guilty by a separate jury of first-degree murder in Ford's death and second-degree murder in Crutchley's. She is to be sentenced Aug. 14 and could receive a life sentence for Ford's murder and up to 30 years on the second-degree count.

Weinstein - who retired in April but came back for yesterday's sentencing - gave Benjamin Sifrit the maximum 30 years for second-degree murder, a combined three years for burglary and a weapons charge, and five more years for being an accessory after the fact in both deaths.

That sentence exceeded recommended Maryland sentencing guidelines. According to Brennan, the guidelines called for a combined 15 to 25 years on the murder count, the accessory count and an assault count that was merged into the other charges.

Sifrit, who was shackled at the hands and wore dark pants and an oversized gray T-shirt, stood and quickly said, "I don't have a statement, your honor" when asked by the judge if he wanted to address the court.

He did, in fact, have a brief statement prepared but opted not to read it after consulting with his attorneys. Brennan declined to say why.

Earlier, members of Crutchley's family noted in statements to the court that Sifrit had never apologized, though he admitted that he helped chop up the bodies.

"Not once to my knowledge has this defendant ever expressed remorse," said Crutchley's sister, Anita Flickinger of Phoenix. "I wish I could hate the deed and not the person, but I do not. I cannot."

Flickinger said that after Crutchley's murder, her mother, who is in her 80s, had to be hospitalized. "We thought for a while that she might die," Flickinger said. "She told her pastor she was mad at God."

Flickinger said she advised her mother, who also lives in Phoenix, not to attend the sentencing. "This murderer shall not have the satisfaction of my mother's tears," she said.

Benjamin Sifrit's parents, who had traveled from their Wisconsin home to attend several days of his trial, did not attend the sentencing.

Sifrit was raised in the Midwest and in Houston, where he was a competitive swimmer and a lifeguard during high school. He graduated in 1996, joined the Navy and entered SEAL training.

Five days after the murders, he and his wife were arrested for burglarizing an Ocean City Hooters restaurant.

Todd theorized yesterday that the Sifrits had come to Ocean City to rob the restaurant because they collected Hooters merchandise. The murders, the prosecutor said, were "simply a means of entertainment."

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