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Former Ballerina Accused Of Gunning Down Estranged Husband Amid Custody Battle

Ashley Benefield, the founder of the short-lived American National Ballet, told detectives that she had killed her husband, Doug G. Benefield, after he attacked her, but investigators said they found "no evidence that she was acting in self-defense."

By Jill Sederstrom
Ex-Ballerina Accused Of Gunning Down Estranged Husband

A former ballerina has been charged with murdering her estranged husband in Florida amid a custody battle.

Ashley C. Benefield, 28, is facing charges of second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Doug G. Benefield.

Ashley claimed she had shot her estranged husband during a “domestic argument,” however detectives with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office “found no evidence that she was acting in self-defense” during the shooting, according to a statement from the department.

Ashley had been staying at her mother’s home in the Central Park neighborhood of Bradenton, Florida “during a custody battle involving their daughter” when Doug came to the home on Sept. 27. Investigators said Ashley and Doug were the only people home at the time.

Ashley later told detectives that she shot her estranged husband just before 7 p.m. after he attacked her inside the home; she then fled to a neighbor’s home to get help.

Deputies arrived at the scene to find Doug still alive in Ashley’s bedroom, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, according to an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. The 58-year-old had been shot once in the leg. Another bullet struck him the right bicep and entered into his chest.

Investigators found two more bullets embedded in the bedroom wall and recovered four casings from a .45 caliber weapon at the scene.

Doug later died at a local hospital from his injuries.

Ashley contended that her estranged husband had been attacking her when she fired the fatal shots; however, authorities said detectives found no evidence that she had been acting in self-defense.

"Based on entry wounds on Douglas it does not appear that he was facing Ashley when she began shooting. It also does not appear that Douglas had taken any kind of defensive of combative stance," authorities said in the affidavit. "Douglas was not found to have any weapons on his person or near him."

Investigators believe Ashley had been standing several feet away from Doug when the shots were fired, according to the affidavit.

They also “found no signs that she had been physically abused,” according to the statement.

The only injury found on her was an “old and very minor” scratch on her right side that a witness told investigators Ashley had gotten the day before the shooting when someone walked by her with a box, according to the affidavit.

Detectives also said that Benefit had begun to file domestic violence reports against her husband as soon as she learned that she was pregnant with the couple’s daughter.

“It appears that the main focus of these complaints was to keep the child away from Douglas,” the affidavit alleges.

None of the allegations of abuse had resulted in criminal charges and were determined to be unfounded, authorities said.

Ashley had also tried to file an injunction against her husband to keep him away from the child, but the judge in the case had “openly advised” that she did not find one “scintilla of truth” to her claims, the affidavit said.

The judge also ordered that Doug be allowed access to the child for visitation.

“At this point, it appeared that Ashley had exhausted all legal means to keep the child away from Douglas before the shooting,” the affidavit said.

Ashley refused to make any statements about the shooting once she arrived at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for an interview and was met at the office by her attorney.

She was arrested Wednesday and is currently being held without bond, the local paper reports.

Ashley had been the founder of the now-defunct Charleston-based American National Ballet. The former professional ballet dancer began the endeavor in 2017 after assembling a team of top ballet dancers and administrators to launch the new company, according to The Post and Courier.

Doug, who had a background in the defense and private equity sectors, had served as CEO of the short-lived company.

By August of 2017, Ashley, who was listed as an unemployed in a probable cause affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com, had taken a leave of absence from the company and moved to Florida. She later posted about the failure of the project on Facebook, writing that she had been “completely devastated by what has been done and the way it was done,” according to the newspaper.

“The dream and vision was to see beautiful dancers of all shapes, sizes, styles and colors dancing together,” she wrote in October 2017.

By 2018, the company had disbanded.