Ashley Benefield to use battered-spouse syndrome defense in murder trial

Posted at 3:37 PM, June 28, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. (Court TV) — The former ballerina accused of killing her husband has filed a notice of intent to use a “battered-spouse syndrome defense,” alleging that the victim’s behavior led to his death.

Ashley Benefield stands in court

Ashley Benefield is seen in court for a hearing on June 27, 2024. (Court TV)

Ashley Benefield is charged with second-degree murder for shooting and killing her husband, Douglas Benefield, in Sept. 2020. Last year, a judge denied her argument that the shooting was in self-defense after a two-day “Stand Your Ground” hearing.

The notice of intent filed on June 12 says that Ashley “expects to prove that she was the victim of domestic violence and abuse perpetrated by the deceased … from 2016 through 2020.” The filing details a laundry list of alleged bad behaviors by Douglas, including stalking, physical violence and shooting a gun into a ceiling.

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Ashley and Douglas’ toxic relationship came into clear focus at last year’s “Stand Your Ground” hearing. Among the evidence introduced was a previous ruling from a family court judge who said she could not find “a single scintilla of credibility” to Ashley’s claims that her husband had been trying to kill her.

Exhibits attached to Ashley’s new filing alleging “battered-spouse syndrome” include a letter that Ashley wrote to Douglas, dated Sept. 18, 2017.

“Over this past year we have had good times, yes, but you have also displayed scary and irrational behavior with sudden bursts of rage and fits of anger. Extreme and uncontrollable anger. This has left be constantly stressed to the point of nausea, and scared for my safety. … You have put my life in danger multiple times when you had a sudden fit of anger when driving with me in the car. … You have thrown and broken things…chairs, cups, books, anything you can get your hands on…even a loaded gun which left a giant hole in the wall in the kitchen.”

Douglas, for his part, admitted during a deposition related to the couple’s custody case that he had pulled out a gun and shot into the ceiling during an argument with his wife.

Two pages of a handwritten letter

Ashley Benefield wrote her husband a letter asking him to no longer contact her. (Court Filing)

The filing includes a list of witnesses Ashley says will testify to the domestic abuse, and on that list is Assistant State Attorney Suzanne O’Donnell, who is prosecuting the murder case. The defense previously tried unsuccessfully to disqualify O’Donnell from trying the case and compel her to sit for a deposition, but a judge denied the motions earlier this month.

READ MORE | Judge denies Ashley Benefield’s self-defense claim in husband’s death

O’Donnell has acknowledged her role as both a witness and a prosecutor in the case. At a bond hearing on June 17, she was sworn in and said that she was involved with the couple’s ongoing legal battles several years ago when Ashley accused Douglas of trying to poison her.

O’Donnell told the judge, “What I’m trying to say is that this is an ongoing pattern of behavior where she manipulates everyone she comes in contact with. And she’s very, very good at it. And she gets everyone believing that she is a victim when she’s the one pulling strings. This was something that was thought out and that was planned. And she’s not just a victim in a domestic violence situation that had to shoot her husband. And that’s what everyone would like you to belive. This is not the situation. And if she is capable of doing all those things and manipulating people to her will, then I am extremely concerned about her being out and I’m extremely concerned about her feeling with the child. So I don’t know if that makes me a witness or if a lot of what I have is just argument, but I did have some association with this case and that’s why I wanted the Court to know.”

The judge allowed O’Donnell to remain on the case. Benefield’s next hearing is scheduled for July 11.