Two days of motion hearings are scheduled to kick off Thursday for Ashley Benefield, 31, – the former model and ballerina accused of shooting and killing her husband, Douglas (Doug) Benefield, 58, inside their Lakewood Ranch, Florida, home in September 2020.
Ashley Benefield’s defense team filed a motion for dismissal – meaning they want the case and charges dropped – claiming Doug Benefield was an abusive husband and she shot and killed him in self-defense.
Ashley Benefield & Doug Benefield
In 2016, the Benefields first met at a Republican fundraiser in Palm Beach. Ashley Benefield was a 24-year-old model and ballerina – and Doug Benefield was a recently widowed 54-year-old Navy veteran.
Two weeks after meeting, they were married.
Doug Benefield’s first wife, Renee Benefield, died 9 months prior to their wedding from a heart condition. He was a technology consultant and had started several businesses.
Ashley Benefield wanted to start her own ballet company — so with Doug Benefield’s help — they created “The American National Ballet” in Charleston, South Carolina. The ballet company failed quickly.
Soon after launching the company, the Benefields found out they were expecting a baby. Due to a challenging pregnancy, Ashley Benefield moved from South Carolina to Florida to be with her mother and gave birth in March 2018. Shortly after, things started to crumble and a nasty battle over custody of their baby began.
Court documents show Ashley Benefield did everything in her power to keep Doug Benefield away from her and their baby – even filing domestic violence claims in court. Ashley Benefield said Doug Benefield tried poisoning her and was psychologically abusive. At an injunction hearing, the judge went on the record advising that they did not find Ashley Benefield’s story to possess a “scintilla of truth.”
On September 27, 2020, dispatchers in Manatee County received a 911 call around 6 p.m. from a man who said his neighbor had just run over to his home, yelling for help, claiming her husband had just attacked her, so she shot him.
That neighbor was later identified as Ashley Benefield.
First responders said it was clear the victim – Doug Benefield – had been shot at least two times in the master bedroom. A medical examiner reported one of the rounds entered the outside of his right leg and exited the inside of his right leg. The other round appeared to have skipped the right bicep and entered Doug Benefield’s chest cavity from his right side.
“Based on the entry wounds on Douglas, it does not appear that he was facing Ashley when she began shooting,” court documents state. “It also does not appear that Douglas had taken any kind of defensive or combative stance.”
The medical examiner also confirmed after being shot, Doug Benefield fell to the ground and it appears that he may have struck his head on the wall on the way down, court documents state. He did have an abrasion on the back of his head which matched a small patch of disturbed drywall on their bedroom wall.
Four shots were fired – four .45 caliber casings were found on the master bedroom floor, a police affidavit said. A loose projectile was also found on the floor and two more were found embedded in the walls of the home.
Ashley Benefield’s Arrest Affidavit
A warrant for Ashley Benefield’s arrest was filed about six weeks after the crime on November 4, 2020, charging her with second-degree murder with a firearm. The arrest affidavit presented the above facts of the case and confirmed when first responders tried to question her about what had happened, her legal counsel had already arrived at the crime scene and her counsel told police she did not want to make a statement.
“Ashley did however make a spontaneous statement to me advising her ears were still ringing,” the affidavit reads.
Photographs were taken of Ashley Benefield within an hour of the shooting and a second time a few days later, and there were no injuries on her besides a scratch on her right side, detectives said. The scratch allegedly appeared to be old and very minor. “A witness explained Ashley got the scratch on her right side the day before the shooting when she was inadvertently scratched when someone walked by her carrying a box,” the affidavit states.
At the time the arrest warrant was filed, prosecutors claimed numerous requests had been made to Ashley Benefield’s legal counsel to set up an interview to talk about what happened the night of the shooting but she had not provided a statement or interview.
The state claims Ashley Benefield was motivated to kill Doug Benefield, saying since she found out she was pregnant with their child, she actively worked to ensure he stayed away from their baby. She filed several domestic violence claims in court, but all were closed and no criminal charges were ever filed.
“Based on these cases and Ashley’s actions leading up to the murder of Douglas Benefield, it appears that the main focus of these complaints was to keep the child away from Douglas,” the affidavit reads. “It appears Ashley had exhausted all legal means of keeping the child away from Douglas before the shooting.”
A judge set Ashley Benefield’s bond at $100,000 – which she paid. She now has a court-issued curfew and is required to wear an ankle monitor. The former ballerina lives with her mother and now 5-year-old daughter. Court documents show she has been able to adjust her curfew when needed and has even traveled to Maryland for a wedding. Due to financial hardships, a judge granted Ashley Benefield’s defense team’s request to waive the monthly cost ($120) of the ankle monitor maintenance.
Motion for Dismissal
In February 2023, Ashley Benefield’s defense team filed a motion for dismissal – claiming she shot and killed her husband in self-defense. The 105-page motion lays out her side of the story explaining what happened leading up to the deadly shooting:
- Ashley Benefield was preparing to move to Maryland with her mother and daughter. Ashley Benefield was staying at their home, but Doug Benefield was living in a temporary apartment.
- Doug Benefield was planning to move to Maryland with Ashley Benefield and their child, but they planned to live separately.
- Doug Benefield showed up to their home around 5:30 p.m.
- Ashley Benefield’s mother took their daughter to the splash pad.
- While packing up a U-Haul outside and in the garage, Doug Benefield’s mood was “consistent to his prior history: happy, hyper and animated, then agitated, sullen and intimating.”
- Doug Benefield allegedly became angry, screaming “we are moving together as a family, making a fresh start, but you’re dividing us” and “it’s time you start acting like a wife.”
- Later, Doug Benefield allegedly drove a moving box directly into Ashley Benefield “in an upward motion, resulting in considerable pain and scratches to her right side.”
- Ashley Benefield tried to leave their home, but Doug Benefield allegedly grabbed her by the left hand, yanked her backward, and asked her where she was going. He’s accused of wagging his finger in her face stating “You can’t leave me!”
- Ashley Benefield snapped, yelling at him to leave.
- “Raising his right hand, with a closed fist, the decedent drove his knuckles, at the second joint, into the left side of Ms. Benefield’s head,” the motion reads. “Her worst fears realized, Ms. Benefield now believed her life was in danger.”
- Ashley Benefield ran into the master bedroom and grabbed a gun that she legally owned. Doug Benefield allegedly followed her and he barged into the bedroom “with a fierce scowl.”
- Ashley Benefield pointed the gun at Doug Benefield and ordered him to leave her alone and leave the home.
- “He postured like a mixed martial arts fighter (blading, hands parallel with his chest/shoulders, moving his arms/hands in small circular motions) and advanced toward her, according to the motion.
- Ashley Benefield shot at Doug Benefield – Doug Benefield allegedly kept moving toward her. She kept shooting.
- “She saw the deceased’s legs go up in the air as if his feet slipped out from underneath him, and he fell backward.”
- Ashley Benefield ran to a neighbor’s home yelling for help.
- Two neighbors out walking their dogs saw her running outside with the gun, crying and screaming “Help!”
In the motion for dismissal, Ashley Benefield’s attorneys added evidence, documents, and photos supporting their case. These include photos of Doug Benefield that show his impeccable physique and strength, along with the cut on the side of Ashley Benefield’s body that she allegedly received from the moving box and a previous photo of Ashley Benefield with a black eye. The defense says the injury photos were taken the day of the shooting.
The defense team also attached depositions Doug Benefield made while detectives were investigating Ashley Benefield’s domestic violence claims. In the depositions, Doug Benefield made several admissions to violent behavior.
In July 2018, he allegedly admitted to pulling a gun out of its sleeve and shooting at the ceiling – even throwing the gun against the wall – in an effort to get Ashley Benefield to be quiet during an argument.
Doug Benefield also admitted to hitting their dog and punching a hole in their wall. “My fist went through the sheetrock and sort of hit the outside,” he said in the deposition. “Ashley was the cause of the argument.”
Doug Benefield’s Daughter Speaks Out On TikTok
Doug Benefield’s daughter that he had with his first wife, Eva Benefield, made headlines after she made a TikTok video talking about the trauma that’s built-up surrounding the death of her mother and murder of her father. The TikTok reads:
“My mom dies when I was 15 and my dad assure me he won’t be remarrying. Nine months later, he introduces me to a 24-year-old he says he’s dating. But two days later, told me they actually were married. Not too long after I get used to it, they announce that she’s pregnant but soon after that, she leaves my dad and it’s just me and my dad again. My dad moves to Florida to heal their marriage so their kid can have a happy family, but three years later, I get a call that the now 27-year-old murdered my dad.”
To this date, that video has 3.1 million likes. Because of the massive reach, and interest, that post received, she went on to explain her side of the story, answering some of the questions people had commented on her video.
“She was cool at first, but then she wasn’t,” Eva Benefield explained in one video speaking about Ashley Benefield. “She would kind of twist my words and make my dad get mad at me.” The daughter said this really affected the relationship she had with her father.
When Eva Benefield found out Ashley Benefield was pregnant, she said she thought, “This is freakin’ bulls—.”
Eva Benefield explained that every morning, Doug Benefield would text her a bible verse. He would call her after she responded saying she was awake. When he didn’t text her on the morning of the shooting, she knew something was wrong.
She ended up getting a call from her uncle who told her that her father was dead.
“Did she kill him?” Eva Benefield said she asked her uncle. “Yes, Ashley shot and killed him,” he allegedly responded.
In a later video, Eva Benefield tries to break down the legal side of the case. She said Ashley Benefield is claiming self-defense, which we know through court documents, but later states Doug Benefield’s DNA was not found on Ashley Benefield or vice-versa – which we can not confirm.
“I kind of just want the trial to be over,” Eva Benefield says in a video. “I want her to go to jail. It’s been a legal s—show.”
A pretrial immunity hearing on the motion for dismissal has been scheduled for Thursday, July 6 and Friday, July 7 at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton.
Circuit Court Judge Matt Whyte will be proceeding over the case.
The Law&Crime Network will stream the hearings in full on our YouTube page.
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