By IVY BROWN and GRACE WONG
BRADENTON, Fla. (Court TV) – A former ballerina charged in her husband’s death was in court this week to argue she acted in self-defense.
Ashley Benefield is facing a second-degree murder charge for the September 2020 death of Douglas Benefield. Ashley claims she shot Douglas in self-defense, which was argued at a two-day “Stand Your Ground” hearing. Prosecutors contend Ashley killed Douglas to avoid sharing custody of their daughter.
On Thursday, the victim’s cousin, Tommie Benefield, testified the couple wed after knowing each other for 13 days. Three months later, Ashley became pregnant and moved from South Carolina to Florida to live with her mother.
Soon after, Ashley began legal proceedings against Douglas. Attorney Stephanie Murphy, who represented Douglas, testified Ashley claimed she and her unborn child were poisoned by “heavy metals,” along with other allegations of abuse.
Prosecutors played a scathing ruling from a Family Court Judge who stated she did not “find a single scintilla of credibility” on the part of the defendant, or in the evidence she presented to justify blocking her husband from seeing their daughter.
The judge who presided over the couple’s parental time-sharing lawsuit issued a ruling that gave Douglas increasing visitation frequency over time and ultimate decision making in their daughter’s medical needs.
The couple was scheduled to appear before the same judge for an injunction motion filed by Ashley’s team. Douglas was shot to death three days before their court date.
On Thursday, a judge also heard testimony from crime scene technicians and law enforcement personnel who processed the crime scene. Dr. Russell Vega, who performed the autopsy on Douglas, testified the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest and determined the manner of death was homicide.
Douglas was killed while helping Ashley move her belongings to Maryland, where they were going to take up residence. During the move, Ashley, through her lawyer, said she shot her husband while fearing for her life after he allegedly assaulted her. Prosecutors claim Ashley had no intention of reconciling with Douglas and was moving to Maryland after she had exhausted her legal avenues in Florida to keep Douglas from seeing their daughter.
On Friday, proceedings began with the defense telling the judge they would not be calling any witnesses. Following closing arguments from both sides, the judge said he would take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling after reviewing court transcripts. Court is expected to reconvene in September to continue the “Stand Your Ground” hearing.