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Altoona woman given life term plus 20 years for slaying of Virginia couple

Friday, August 15, 2003

By David Dishneau, The Associated Press

FREDERICK, Md. -- A woman described by prosecutors as a depraved killer who kept souvenirs of her crimes was sentenced yesterday to life in prison plus 20 years for murdering a Virginia couple she and her husband met while bar-hopping in Ocean City, Md.

Erika E. Sifrit, 25, of Altoona, was convicted in June of killing Joshua E. Ford, 32, and his girlfriend, Martha M. "Genie" Crutchley, 51.

The murder trials of Sifrit and her husband were moved out of Ocean City because of publicity. Benjamin Sifrit, 25, was sentenced last month to 38 years in prison for Crutchley's murder and a restaurant burglary five days later. He was acquitted of killing Ford.

The Fairfax, Va., couple were killed May, 26, 2002, in the condominium where the Sifrits were staying. Their remains were found in a Delaware landfill nine days later.

When police arrested the Sifrits, they found Ford's distinctive silver ring, stained with both victims' blood, in her purse, along with four spent shell casings from the murder weapon, a .357 Magnum revolver tucked into her waistband.

A photograph of Erika Sifrit showed her wearing what appeared to be Ford's ring on a chain around her neck.

Prosecutor Joel J. Todd said at Erika Sifrit's trial he believes she fired one of the shots that killed Ford and also shot at Crutchley, but missed. He theorized that Crutchley was finished off with a knife.

He acknowledged, however, that only the Sifrits know how Crutchley died, since her full remains were not found.

Todd referred to Erika Sifrit during her trial as "Little Miss Scrapbook," a depraved killer who kept souvenirs of her crimes. He said she controlled her husband, a former Navy SEAL, and took the lead in inviting the victims to their condominium after the bars closed.

Erika Sifrit's lawyer, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, argued that Benjamin Sifrit was the killer. He told jurors that Erika Sifrit was a "fragile, psychologically weak young woman" who aided her husband only because she craved his affection.

The victim's families opposed seeking the death penalty for the Sifrits, the prosecutor's office said.

The defense attorneys said in June they would likely appeal the murder verdicts, citing Erika Sifrit's agreement early on to cooperate in exchange for avoiding homicide charges. Prosecutors voided that agreement after saying Erika Sifrit lied to them about some details of the crimes.

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