Thanks to Terry Paul for sending me this new information on Josh Ford's murder. Perhaps Al will be able to translate some of the "legaleze" for us. GEM
Benjamin Sifrit v. State of Maryland
No. 142, September Term, 2003
DUE PROCESS — INCONSISTENT THEORIES OF PROSECUTION — For a due process violation to exist the inconsistency must exists at the core of the State’s case. Discrepancies based on rational inferences from ambiguous evidence will not support a due process violation provided the multiple theories are supported by consistent underlying facts.
EVIDENCE — CHARACTER EVIDENCE — OTHER CRIMES, WRONGS, OR ACTS — The trial court is required to conduct a three-part test before admission of "other crimes, wrongs, or act" evidence may be admitted; (1) does the evidence fit within one or more of the states exception to Md. Rule 5-
404(b); (2) has the defendant’s involvement in the other "crime, wrong or act" been established by clear
and convincing evidence; (3) does the probative value of the evidence out weigh the prejudicial effect of
EVIDENCE — CHARACTER EVIDENCE — OTHER CRIMES, WRONG, OR ACTS — Evidence is
deemed an "act" within the meaning of Md. Rule 5-404(b) if the evidence relates to an activity or
conduct, not necessarily criminal, that tends to impugn or reflect adversely upon one’s character, taking
into consideration the facts of the underlying lawsuit.
SENTENCING — MERGER — REQUIRED EVIDENCE TEST — Where multiple offenses arise
from the same act or acts and all of the elements of one offense are included in another offense, except
that the later offense contains a distinct element(s), the former merges into the later. This process is
known as the required evidence test and when satisfied, the offenses merge as a matter of course.
SENTENCING — MERGER — RULE OF LENITY — When the required evidence test is not satisfied
but multiple offenses are based on the same act or acts, the principle of statutory construction known as
the rule of lenity may still require merger. The rule of lenity applies when the Court finds that the
legislature did not intend, under the circumstances involved in the particular case, for a person to be
convicted of two particular offenses growing out of the same act or transaction.
In the Circu it Court for M ontgomery County
Criminal No. 96895
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND
September Term, 2003
BENJAMIN ADAM SIFRIT
STATE OF MARYLAND
Opinion by Greene, J.
Filed: August 27, 2004
1 The indictment indicates that Count Nine is accessory after the fact. The verdict sheet,
however, refers to accessory after the fact as Count Seven. The correct count number for the
charge of accessory after the fact is Count Nine.
2 The same jury, acquitted Benjamin of the murder of Joshua Ford and related offenses.
3 Due to extensive pretrial publicity, Benjamin’s case was removed from the Circuit Court
for Worcester County and transferred to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.
A jury in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, on April 9, 2003, convicted
Benjamin Sifrit ("Benjamin"), of three crimes in connection with the death of Martha
Crutchley. The crimes are: Count One, murder in the second degree, Count Three,
assault in the first degree, and Count Nine,1 accessory afte r the fact.2 Benjamin’s
convictions and this appeal arise out of events that occurred over the Memorial Day
weekend 2002 in Ocean City, Maryland, resulting in the death of two people, Martha
Crutchley and Joshua Ford.3
In a related case, a separate jury in the Circuit Court for Frederick County, on June
10, 2003, convicted Erika Sifrit ("Erika"), Benjamin’s wife, for her complicity in the
murders of Ms. Crutchley and Mr. Ford. We granted Erika’s petition for writ of
certiorari. Sifrit v. State, 380 Md. 230 (2003). Subsequently, while Benjamin’s appeal
was pending in the Court of Spe cial Appeals, we gra nted his petition for writ of certiorari
before consideration o f his claims by the interme diate ap pellate c ourt. Sifrit v. State, 381
Md. 324 (2004). Even though many of the facts, issues, and legal arguments in these two
cases overlap we answer the issues and contentions of the parties in separate opinions of
Benjamin raises the fo llowing issu es:
1. Whether the State violated [Benjamin’s] fundamental right to due process
by presenting factually inconsistent theories at [Benjamin’s] trial and that of
his wife, Erika, both of whom were charged with committing the same
2. Whether the trial court [erred] in admitting the testimony of Michael
McInnis regarding a conversation that [Benjamin] had with McInnis three
years bef ore the m urders a s prior bad acts e vidence.
3. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to allow the defense to present
evidence regarding Erika’s ability to commit the crimes alone.
4. Whether the trial court erred in imposing separate sentences for second
degree murder and first degree a ssault.
We shall affirm Be njamin Sif rit’s conviction s. A due p rocess viola tion does n ot
exist in a situation involving multiple trials based upon a single criminal transaction,
unless the prosecution presents inconsistent theories and the inconsistency exists at the
core, not the margins, of the State’s case. It is not enough for a due process violation that
there are discrepancies because of rational inferences drawn from ambiguous evidence,
provided that the multiple theories are supported by consistent underlying facts. In the
present case, the State’s theory that Benjamin and Erika committed the criminal offenses
together as a team remained con sistent throug hout both trials. Any incon sistency in
inferences or emphasis placed on particular facts by the State were consistent with the
State’s u nderlying theory of the case and did not violate Benjamin’s right to due pro cess.
In addition, we discern no reversible error in the trial court’s rulings with regard to the
admissibility of the testimony of Michael McInnis and the exclusion of the testimony of
Elizabeth Sifrit. Finally, we shall vacate the sentence imposed for Count Three, first
degree assault, treating it, for sentencing purposes, as merging with the conviction for
second degree murder, Count One.
On Friday, May 24, 2002, Martha Crutchley and her boyfriend, Joshua Ford, drove
from Virginia to Ocean City, Maryland, for the Memorial Day weekend. Erika and her
husband Benjamin were also vacationing in Ocean City over the holiday weekend. On
Saturday night, May 25, 2002, the Sifrits met Ms. Crutchley and Mr. Ford on a bus on
their way to Seacrets, a popular Ocean City nightclub. The Sifrits did not have the exact
change for the fare so Ms. Crutchley and Mr. Ford offered to pay the Sifrits’ fare if they
would buy them a drink when they arrived at Seacrets. The foursome and two other
people from the bus, friends Anne Carlino and Jeff Hysee, spent the rest of the evening
togethe r at Seac rets.
What happened in the early morn ing hours following the night at S eacrets is
unknown. We do know, however, that at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 26, 2002, Erika
called 911 claiming that people she did not know were in her condominium unit and she
could not f ind her pu rse. She w as "afraid I’m going to have a robb ery here." The call
abruptly ended and no one was dispatched to the condominium.
On Tuesday, May 28, 2002, one of Ms. Crutchley’s co-workers notified the Fairfax
City police that Martha Crutchley failed to show up at work following the Memorial Day
4 Investigators later found other items in the Jeep including but not limited to a knife,
gloves, and undeveloped film.
weekend. Fairfax City police contacted the O cean City police who found Ms. C rutchley’s
car outside the condominium where she and Mr. Ford were staying for the weekend. The
police found the couple’s belongings left in their condominium as if they had just stepped
out. Concerned about Ms. Crutchley and Mr. Ford, the police began to search actively for
On May 31, 2002, around midnight, the Ocean City Police Department responded
to an alarm call from the closed-for-the-night Hooters Restaurant and Bar merchandise
store on 122nd Street in Ocean City. There they found Erika and Benjamin loading
Hooters merchandise into the ir Jeep C heroke e. The couple w ere plac ed in handcuffs.
Upon searching the couple, the police found a 9 millimeter handgun and a knife on
Benjamin and a fully-loaded .357 magnum revolver tucked into Erika’s blue jeans in the
small of her back. Another knife was found on Erika. Discovered in the Sifrits’ car were
a .45 calibre gun, ski masks, flex cuffs, and tape.4 The two were arrested and charged
with burg lary.
At the scene of the burglary, Erika told the officers that she had anxiety problems
and that she needed her Xanax and Paxil from a brown leather pouch in her purse located
in the front of the Jeep. One of the police officers, Sgt. Beene, looked in Erika’s purse for
the pills. He found only one type of pill inside the brown leather pouch. Sgt. Beene
continued to look for the other type of pill inside a red pouch because he noticed medicine
5 There was also a silver ring with a dragon engraving found in Erika’s purse that was
later identified as belonging to Mr. Ford. DNA testing revealed blood from both Joshua Ford
and Martha Crutchley on the ring. Ms. Crutchley was a major contributor to the DNA sample
found on the ring and Mr. Ford was a minor contributor, according to a forensic chemist for the
State of Maryland.
bottles in that pouch. When the officer did not find the second type of pill in the red
pouch he looked in a zippered pouch in the back of the purse. There he discovered four
spent .357 magnum shell casings and one live round. The sergeant continued to look for
the second type of pill in a gray change purse, also inside Erika’s purse, and found the
identification cards of M r. Ford and Ms. Crutchley.5 Fearing for the safety of Ms.
Crutchley and Mr. Ford, the police ordered an immediate search of the Sifrits’
Upon entering the Sifrits’ condominium, the police observed photographs and two
bullets on a glass table. The pictures were of the Sifrits, Ms. Crutchley, and Mr. Ford,
taken before the murders. Both of the bullets on the table had been fired from the .357
magnum recovered from Erika at Hooters, and one of the bullets had Mr. Ford’s blood
and tissue on it. Police also found a key to Ms. Crutchley and Mr. Ford’s condominium
on another table. Crime scene technicians found bloodstains in the Sifrits’ master
bathroom on the top of the counter, the underside of the counter top, the floor, the floor
under the vanity, the back side of the bottom drawer of the vanity, under the mirror, under
the baseboard, under the hot tub faucet, on the hot tub step, on a sailboat candle holder on
the hot tub, on the window, and in the shower. Swabs were taken from these bloodstains,
which were a ll later identified as match ing the DNA of either M s. Crutchley or M r. Ford.
There was also a hole in the back wall of the bathroom, fresh paint on the wall, and
numerous cleaning supplies on the floor next to the bathroom door. The cleaning
supplies, it was later discovered, had been purchased on Sunday, May 26, 2002, the day
after Martha Crutchley and Joshua Ford were murdered.
The police ultimately found the dismembered bodies of Martha Crutchley and
Joshua Ford in a Delaware landfill. The only part of Ms. Crutchley that was recovered
was her left leg, consequently, her cause of death was never determined. Police
recovered the torso and both arms of Mr. Ford. Two bullets fired from the .357 magnum
recovered from Erika at Hooters on the night of the burglary were found in M r. Ford’s
The State’s theory in both cases was that after leaving Seacrets that night, the two
couples had returned to the Sifrits’ condominium. Onc e in the condominium, the Sifrits
engaged in a "missing purse game" in which they claim ed Erik a’s purse was m issing.
They demanded the other couple find the purse and when it couldn’t be found, somehow
got them into the upstairs bathroom where both Sifrits shot Mr. Ford and in some other
manner killed Ms. Crutchley. The team then cut up the victims’ bodies and disposed of
them in trash dumpsters.
The State’s theory is based, in part, on the testimony of Melissa Seling ("Melissa")
who met the Sif rits the nig ht of M ay 29 through her friend, Justin Todd Wright ("T odd").
Melissa testified that when she caught up to T odd that night, he and the Sifrits were
intoxicated and she was the only one who was sober. Melissa joined the Sifrits and Todd
at a couple of bars, but she did not drink. At the end of the evening, Melissa was worried
about Benjamin’s ab ility to drive so she a greed to fo llow the Sifrits back to th eir
condominium. When the four of them arrived at the condominium, Melissa, at
Benjamin’s urging, helped Erika up to the condominium because she seemed so
intoxicated th at she mig ht fall over without help. O nce a t the d oor, Erika located her keys
in her purse and opened the door with no problem. Erika began showing Melissa around
the condominium. Within 5-10 minutes of having the purse at the door, Erika and
Benjamin claimed that someone had taken Erika’s purse and that Melissa had to look for
At some point during the search for the purse, Benjamin brandished a gun and
became more adamant about them finding the purse. Benjamin made a number of
statements d uring the search regard ing people who had been the re before w ho had tried to
rip them off and that he was "doing the world a justice by ridding the earth of bad
people." Melissa testified that he also told her "if we ripped them off . . . he would kill us
the same way he killed those other people." In her statement to police and on re-crossexamination
in Benjamin’s trial, Melissa acknowledged that she was not clear in her
recollection of whether Benjamin had said "just like I killed the other people" or "just
like we killed the othe r people" (emphasis added). M elissa testified tha t she felt
threatened by the gun and asked that it be put away. During the search, Melissa noticed a
bullet hole in the bathroom door, wh ich had been removed from its hinges. Ultimately,
Benjamin discovered the purs e in a location that had pre viously been s earched. B enjamin
also sat down with Melissa to show her his gun and what he called Erika’s gun, the .357
magnum used to kill Jo shua Ford.
At his trial, Benjamin took the stand in his own defense. He denied any
involvement in the actual killing of the two victims. Benjamin testified that he left
Seacrets with his wife, Martha Crutchley, and Joshua Ford and got on a bus. When the
bus stopped at the condominium where Ms. Crutchley and Mr. Ford were staying, Erika
got off the bus with them while Benjamin returned to their condominium alone. Once
there, however, Benjamin realized he did not have a key to the unit, so he went and
"passed out" in the couple’s jeep. At some time later, Benjamin claims his wife woke
him up in the car asking "why weren’t you there for me?" The two then returned to the
condominium where he found Joshua Ford and Martha Crutchley dead on the bathroom
floor. Benjamin admitted that it was his idea to dismember the bodies and that Erika
helped him. He testified that he cut off both Ms. Crutchley’s and Mr. Ford’s heads, arms,
and legs about an hour after they were killed. He then placed their body parts in trash
bags, which Erika purchased for that purpose that morning while Benjamin dismembered
the bodies, and then dumped their remains in a dumpster at a Food Lion in Rehoboth,
Delaware, at aro und 8 a .m. or 9 a .m. on Sunday, M ay 26, 2002.
6 In a separate trial, Erika was convicted of the first degree murder of Mr. Ford, second
degree murder of Ms. Crutchley, and theft charges related to the burglary at Hooters. She was
sentenced to life imprisonment for the first degree murder of Joshua Ford, 20 years to run
consecutive for the second degree murder of Martha Crutchley, and 18 months to run concurrent
for the theft charges.