Ashley Benefield is a 28-year-old former ballet dancer in Florida who has been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of her 59-year-old husband, Doug Benefield, the Bradenton Herald reported.
Although Benefield has said she shot him in self-defense, police are accusing her of shooting her husband in late September because she had recently lost a custody battle to keep her daughter away from her husband.
Benefield turned herself into police custody on the night of November 4, according to local NBC-affiliate WFLA.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Woman With Benefield’s Maiden Name Was Part of the Trump Campaign
A woman with Benefield’s maiden name of Byers was said to have spoken on Trump’s behalf at a rally in Illinois, according to local NPR radio station WGLT. The woman, the station reported, “was introduced as a retired ballerina from Florida” who was working as a model.
Byers said of Trump, “I am not here to talk about his policies or campaign or even about his company and the amazing thriving empire he has built over the years. I am here to attest to his character and the man of integrity that I know him to be.”
The Washington Times reported that Byers was a swimsuit model, paid $3,000 for her expenses while working as an office manager for Trump’s Florida campaign. The website referenced a Facebook page in which Byers described herself as Texas-born and as someone who “danced for many professional ballet companies along the east coast including Ballet Theatre of Maryland, The Baltimore Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Ballet Pensacola, The Brandon Ballet, and The Wilmington Ballet Company.”
Those credentials are echoed in a post about a ballet company that Benefield started with her husband Doug Benefield.
The Facebook page belonging to an “Ashley Byers” has been closed.
2. Benefield, a Former Dancer, Tried to Start a Ballet Company With Her Husband
Pointe magazine, which covers events in the ballet world, along with Dance Magazine wrote about the American National Ballet’s founding in April 2017 and closure just months later in October of the same year. ANB, as the company was called, was founded by Benefield — who Pointe reported “didn’t have prior company-leadership experience” but was trusted because of her dance background — as well as Benefield’s husband and CEO Doug Benefield — who brought “confidence” because of his business history.
The company, according to Pointe, “proclaimed itself as a home for dancers of diverse body types and ethnicities.” It offered at least one of its dancers a $21,000 salary as well as stipends for pointe-shoes, rent and health insurance as well as teaching experience. However, one of the company’s dancers, Kimberly Thompson, said she was given “busywork” and was often not paid for teaching classes because no students would show up.
Although the company had said it would fund itself through licensing, a dancewear line and instruction academy, The Post & Courier of Charleston reported that the company let go a total of 23 members of its two dance companies as part of an upcoming merger. The principal dancer, Sara Michelle Murawski, also resigned in protest and Benefield, who had been on maternity leave, Dance Magazine reported, described herself as “sick” over the news.
Benefield wrote the following as part of an Instagram post in which she announced she was leaving the company:
I want to start by saying that I publicly disavow my support for American National Ballet and its leadership. I have been on personal leave and out of state since the end of August and heard second hand about the devastation that took place on October 23rd. As the founder I am completely devastated by what has been done and the way it was done.
The new leadership has destroyed all that we worked so hard to build and I cannot stand behind them or their actions. ANB was created to be different from any other company and was supposed to set a new standard in how it treated its dancers. Everyone involved should be ashamed of thsemlves for how this was handled.
The now-defunct dance company’s website address no longer works.
An Ashley C. Benefield is listed as the sole principal of a business licensed in Florida called “From Fifth LLC.” The business is described as a “Florida Domestic Limited-Liability Company.”
3. Benefield & Her Husband Were Estranged
Doug Benefield, according to what his cousin told local NBC-affiliate WLFA, was “a loving father, a Navy veteran, and a talented innovator.” Benefield’s relative went on to say, “Doug was, caring, kind, sweet, loving.”
However, according to police, Benefield and her husband were estranged and going through a difficult custody battle over their 2-year-old daughter. According to a press release from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Ashley Benefield was living in Bradenton, Florida, at her mother’s home, and Doug Benefield was living elsewhere in the state.
Manatee County court records show that Benefield had filed domestic violence claims prior to the murder, requested orders of protection on multiple occasions and even tried — unsuccessfully — to have the trial judge hearing her case disqualified at one point. A hearing started in July 2018 was eventually dismissed in September of that year and another domestic violence hearing started in May 2020 was also dismissed on September 30.
As part of an affidavit reported by People magazine, police said they found that her accusations against her husband had no factual basis. According to the affidavit:
During this investigation, it was found that since the time Ashley found out she was pregnant with the child that she and Douglas share she has made several allegations against Douglas. While looking into the outcomes of the numerous cases it was found that they had never resulted in criminal charges and furthermore closed as unfounded … It appears that the main focus of these complaints was to keep the child away from Douglas.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Randy Warren told WFLA, “In each of these cases, it did not appear that she was being abused. We could not find anything there that would have led us to arrest her husband for whatever these claims were.”
4. Benefield Has Been Charged With Second-Degree Murder in the Shooting of Her Husband
According to a press release from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Doug Benefield had gone to the home where Ashley Benefield was living on September 27, 2020, when the two got involved in what Ashley Benefield called a “domestic argument.”
The argument ended when she fired a .45 caliber handgun in his direction four times, according to the Bradenton Herald, hitting Doug Benefield in the leg once while another bullet “grazed his right arm and entered his chest.” The other two bullets were found embedded in the home’s walls.
After the shooting, Ashley Benefield ran to a male neighbor’s house and told the neighbor that she had shot her husband because he had attacked her; that neighbor then called 911, according to Law & Crime.
Later that night, Doug Benefield died from his injuries, the Herald reported. The paper also reported that Ashley Benefield “refused to make any statements during the initial interview attempt, and detectives noted that to date, she has still refused to provide any further statements.”
5. Benefield Says She Shot Her Husband in Self-Defense, Which Police Say Is Not True
Ashley Benefield said she shot her husband in self-defense during a “domestic argument,” WLFA reported.
However, sheriff’s office spokesperson Warren disputed her account, telling WFLA, “We are looking for injuries, we are looking for torn clothing, we are looking for a sign of struggle, things that were inside that residence. We got a warrant, we were able to go in, we were able to examine that closely.”
In a police affidavit reviewed by People magazine, authorities say that evidence shows Benefield only had a scratch — which a witness testified had nothing to do with her husband — and that evidence indicated she had shot her husband in the back.
People magazine reported based on the affidavit:
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 (or) combative stance. Douglas was not found to have any weapons on his person or near him.
As Warren told WFLA, “There was no evidence there that this was an act of self-defense.”