Erika Sifrit cites lawyer failure, seeks new trial

Neal Augenstein,

WASHINGTON — Erika Sifrit, serving life in prison plus 20 years, is asking a federal court for a new trial for the brutal murders and dismemberment of a Virginia couple in 2002, claiming her trial attorney failed to seek or present evidence of longstanding severe mental illness.

Sifrit and her now-former husband, Benjamin Sifrit, killed Joshua Ford and Martha Crutchley of Fairfax after meeting the couple and partying in Ocean City, Md. during Memorial Day weekend almost 10 years ago.

Sifrit was convicted in Frederick County of first-degree murder in Ford’s death, and second-degree murder in Crutchley’s death.

Her ex-husband was convicted in Montgomery County for second-degree murder in Crutchley’s death, and is now serving a 38-year sentence.

In a filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Sifrit’s attorney Robert Biddle writes his client’s trial lawyer “inexplicably conducted next to no pretrial investigation” of what he calls Sifrit’s “longstanding and severe Borderline and Dependent Personality Disorders.”

Even though prosecution evidence at trial revealed Erika Sifrit’s purse at the time of her arrest contained anti-anxiety medications Xanax and Paxil, trial attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli did not call mental health witnesses at trial.

In earlier appeals, defense doctor Neil Blumberg wrote the Sifrit marriage was “the unfortunate meshing of a deeply needy, insecure and inadequate woman with a volatile, manipulative and psychopathic man.”

In this Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Biddle says “trial counsel did not show that BJ manipulated and controlled Ms. Sifrit, abusing her psychologically to the point that she lacked the capacity of a rational adult and became so extremely dependent on him that she would do anything he requested, regardless of the harm it caused.”

Biddle writes that records from a social worker “fully document Ms. Sifrit’s underlying conditions arising in her relationship with BJ more than two years before the murders.”

In fact, Biddle claims “trial counsel never acquired Ms. Sifrit’s prior medical and psychiatric treatment records.”

Biddle is requesting Erika Sifrit be granted a new trial in Frederick County Circuit Court.

Federal judge Richard Bennett has ordered Randall Nero, director of Patuxent Institution, where Erika Sifrit is serving her sentence, to respond within 40 days.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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