The shocking case of Ashley Benefield has drawn national attention. She is a former ballerina accused of murdering her husband, Douglas Benefield, in their Lakewood Ranch, Florida, home in 2020.
Ashley claims she acted in self-defense. Unravel the twists and turns of their turbulent marriage, contentious divorce, and the violent confrontation that led to Douglas’s death.
From their whirlwind romance to the launch of a controversial ballet company and sensational allegations of abuse and poisoning, this case has it all.
Stick around as we take a deep dive into the events that transpired between this unlikely couple.
Background of Former Ballet Dancer Ashley Benefield
Ashley Benefield’s passion for ballet started at a very young age. By 8 years old, she was completely enamored with the art form and pursued it with laser focus.
Ashley ended up dropping out of high school in order to devote more time to honing her craft at the prestigious Maryland Youth Ballet.
She had aspirations of becoming a world-famous prima ballerina. However, by her early 20s, Ashley realized that she would likely never achieve the level of renown and success she desperately desired.
Teaching ballet classes and doing odd jobs like sewing costumes allowed Ashley to stay involved in the field. But her dreams of having a high-flying professional dance career never materialized.
Looking for another creative outlet, Ashley dabbled in modeling. But much like ballet, she failed to set the fashion world alight and did not manage to establish a steady modeling career.
At age 24, Ashley found herself at a crossroads in life. She had devoted over a decade to chasing her passion for ballet, only to end up back where she started.
In journal entries from 2014, a reflective Ashley wrote about her goals, saying:
I know what I want more than anything. I want to love and be loved. I want to be a wife and a mother.
She prayed to God: Please bring me to that special man you have chosen for me.
Ashley Meets Douglas Benefield
In August 2016, Ashley Benefield attended a dinner party at the Palm Beach home of Dr. Ben Carson.
Carson was a retired neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate who had thrown his support behind Donald Trump.
Ashley, who greatly admired Trump, had been working for his campaign in Florida.
It was at this fateful dinner that 24-year-old former model and ballerina Ashley crossed paths with 54-year-old Douglas Benefield. Doug was a divorced technology consultant and former Navy pilot.
Despite their 30-year age gap, Ashley and Doug immediately clicked at the soiree which featured smooth jazz and clinking champagne glasses.
The two bonded over their Christian faith, admiration for Trump, and a shared passion for guns and the Second Amendment.
Ashley even revealed she was armed that evening, secretly carrying two handguns on her person – one tucked into her bra and another in her purse.
Doug was smitten by the beautiful young woman who shared his conservative views.
Following the party, he texted Ashley a winky face along with the flirtatious message: “Loved the time with you Ashley Oakley!!!”
This was an inside joke reference to their conversation about firearms.
Within just 13 days of meeting, Doug and Ashley quickly wed in a private ceremony in Charleston, South Carolina on September 6, 2016.
Doug did not even tell his 15-year-old daughter Eva from his previous marriage about his new bride until after the impromptu nuptials. Their whirlwind romance shocked Doug’s friends and family.
Despite the drastic age difference and barely knowing each other, Ashley and Doug believed they had found true love. But not everyone would share in their wedded bliss.
Troubled Marriage of Ashley & Doug Benefield and Ashley’s Pregnancy
Shortly after the wedding, tensions arose between Ashley and Doug’s daughter Eva.
Ashley tried bonding with her new teenage stepdaughter by taking her shopping and sharing her passion for ballet. But the 8-year age gap between them was difficult to overcome.
Eva felt her father had betrayed his promise not to remarry after her mother’s death. She resented Ashley trying to act as a mother figure. Their rocky relationship puts Doug in the middle.
In 2017, Ashley convinced Doug to reverse his vasectomy and try for a baby.
Ashley soon became pregnant and right from the start claimed that she was suffering from a very very difficult pregnancy in Manatee County.
She felt sick to her stomach, she felt physically weak all the time, and she could barely stand up to take a shower.
Despite American National Ballet launching in Charleston that September, Ashley moved to Florida to live with her mother for support.
Meanwhile, Doug remained behind to handle business operations for their joint ballet company venture.
Initially, Doug and Ashley kept in touch daily, exchanging loving messages about missing each other.
But Ashley’s communication cooled after moving away. She began withdrawing from Doug emotionally and accusing him of abuse.
On one occasion when Doug visited Florida, Ashley allegedly found a gun and fired it into the ceiling during an argument. Their marriage was quickly unraveling with a baby on the way.
American National Ballet Company
In 2017, Ashley and Doug embarked on a joint business venture – launching a new ballet company called American National Ballet (ANB).
Their vision was to create an inclusive company that featured racially diverse dancers of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
ANB marketed itself as a progressive company that broke from ballet’s traditional cookie-cutter aesthetic of predominantly tall, thin, white dancers.
This message initially resonated with professional dancers who felt rejected by more conventional, restrictive companies.
Many were drawn to Ashley’s promise of a company that would finally embrace and celebrate them.
However, ANB quickly descended into turmoil and lawsuits. Shortly after launching, Ashley stepped away leaving Doug to handle operations.
Dancers allegedly breached contracts when they were suddenly fired weeks after being hired.
There were also issues paying the talent, with dancers receiving inconsistent paychecks. The company lacked proper leadership and shut down within months.
Just one month after its launch, American National Ballet was sued for copyright infringement over its logo design.
By October 2017, the company was essentially defunct as Ashley and Doug’s personal drama overshadowed their professional ambitions.
Ultimately, Doug had personally invested over $100,000 into the failed project.
ANB seemed doomed from the start, with Ashley and Doug’s crumbling marriage at the center of it all.
During her tumultuous pregnancy, Ashley began accusing Doug of poisoning her. She claimed to be suffering from mysterious symptoms and sent a hair sample to be tested by a lab in Colorado.
The Carlson Company lab reported finding high levels of heavy metals like aluminum, cobalt, and barium in Ashley’s hair. Their report insinuated intentional poisoning by a third party.
Ashley alleged this made her recall that Doug used to bring her tea each morning when they lived together. She now feared he had been slipping toxins into her drinks and poisoning her over time.
Ashley also suddenly questioned the cause of Doug’s previous wife Renee’s death. Renee had passed away unexpectedly from a heart condition in her sleep at age 56.
Ashley baselessly suggested to Doug’s daughter Eva that he may have been involved in Renee’s passing.
In December 2017, Doug sent a tea gift set for Ashley’s birthday to try and make amends. But Ashley insisted on having the police test the teas for poisons. Once again, no toxins were detected.
Despite a lack of evidence, Ashley remained convinced that Doug had poisoned her during their marriage and was somehow responsible for his former wife’s untimely death.
Doug firmly denied these wild allegations.
Custody Battle Over Their Two-Year-Old Daughter Emerson
In December 2017, Ashley gave birth to a baby girl named Emerson. But she did not inform Doug when their daughter was born. Ashley also refused to put Doug’s name on the birth certificate.
For the first four months of Emerson’s life, Ashley prevented Doug from having any contact with his newborn.
She claimed their child could be in danger due to her allegations that Doug had poisoned her during pregnancy.
Doug eventually found out about the birth of his daughter. In July 2018, he took Ashley to court in Manatee County demanding shared custody rights.
Ashley counter-filed for full custody, repeating her unsubstantiated poisoning accusations against Doug in court.
However, a Florida judge found no evidence to support Ashley’s claims. The judge ordered that Doug and Ashley share 50/50 custody of their daughter Emerson, saying:
There is not a single scintilla of credible evidence that Ms. Benefield has ever been poisoned or suffered from any illness of any poison.
Rather than complying peacefully, Ashley continued her fight to strip Doug of parental rights over their child.
She even subjected baby Emerson to 26 hyperbaric oxygen chamber sessions, incorrectly fearing the newborn would suffer poisoning effects.
Ashley’s unwillingness to share custody amicably put constant strain on her already contentious relationship with Doug.
Their bitter battle over their daughter persisted right up until the fateful events that transpired on the night of Doug’s death.
Despite the swirling allegations and custody feud, Doug continued trying to make things work with Ashley following the birth of their daughter.
In mid-2018, he relocated from South Carolina to Florida to be closer to Ashley and Emerson.
Though they lived separately, Doug and Ashley began attending marriage counseling sessions. To the outside world, it appeared they were attempting to reconcile and rebuild their crumbled relationship.
They put on happy faces while attending public events together, like a glamorous January 2019 ballet gala. But behind the scenes, tensions lingered.
Later that year, Doug uncovered that Ashley was secretly involved with another man. He filed for divorce in November 2019 but maintained hope of reviving their marriage if Ashley would recommit.
In emotional text exchanges, Doug pleaded with Ashley:
We are perfect together. I’ve just never loved this deep before. I lost it. I admit it and I know it.
Despite the cheating scandal, Doug was still desperate to make it work.
He was willing to move past all of Ashley’s deceitfulness and volatility for another chance at happiness with his wife and daughter.
But Ashley continued blowing hot and cold, unable to decide if she wanted Doug in her life.
The Murder of Douglas Benefield
On September 27, 2020, Doug Benefield arrived at Ashley’s mother’s Florida home to help pack up Ashley’s belongings.
The couple were supposedly planning to move to Maryland together for a fresh start, trying to overcome their rocky past.
Earlier that day, Doug had emailed Ashley enthusiastically about their “shared journey.”
When Doug arrived in the late afternoon, Ashley’s mother took their daughter Emerson to a nearby splash park – leaving Ashley and Doug alone together.
Around 6 p.m., a neighbor called 911 after hearing screams coming from the house in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.
Shortly after, Ashley turned up at another neighbor’s door in hysterics, claiming she had just shot Doug in self-defense.
Police arrived to find Doug lying on the bedroom floor, bleeding heavily from gunshot wounds to his leg, arm, and chest. He clung to life for nearly an hour before passing away at the local hospital.
Investigators recovered four .45 caliber shell casings inside the home. They determined that four shots were fired, two of which struck Doug, but no guns or weapons were found on or near his body.
Ashley refused to give a statement to the police that night. Detectives noted she had no injuries apart from a minor scratch likely sustained earlier.
They concluded Doug had not been facing Ashley when she opened fire on him. The evidence at the scene did not align with Ashley’s initial claims of self-defense.
“Based on the entry wounds on Douglas it does not appear that he was facing Ashley when she began shooting,” the detective wrote. “It also does not appear that Douglas had taken any kind of defensive or combative stance”.
Arrest of Ashley Benefield and Murder Trial
Five weeks after Doug’s death, Ashley Benefield was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Her arrest warrant suggested a possible motive – that Ashley had exhausted all legal options to keep Doug out of her and their daughter’s lives.
Ashley pleaded not guilty, and the case progressed to trial in Florida. In July 2023, her defense team filed a motion to dismiss under the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
Her lawyers argue Ashley fatally shot and killed Doug that evening because she felt threatened when he allegedly attacked her during a domestic dispute.
They claim her action was a justifiable act of self-preservation and want to have the second-degree murder charges dropped.
Over two days of pretrial hearings, witnesses have testified and evidence has been presented aimed at validating Ashley’s immunity claims.
Doug’s outraged daughter Eva has attended the proceedings, subjecting herself to disturbing autopsy photos of her slain father.
The outcome of Ashley’s murder trial remains uncertain. Florida’s wide-reaching Stand Your Ground laws make it possible for juries will acquit even in questionable self-defense cases.
But the evidence that Doug’s back was turned when Ashley shot him casts doubt on her stated need for self-defense that night.
Prosecutors face an uphill battle proving Ashley’s actions were primarily motivated by wanting Doug permanently out of her life.
Ashley Benefield’s murky backstory and inconsistent behavior leave more questions than answers. Regardless of the trial’s outcome, her alleged actions have forever damaged many lives.
Share this article to help uncover the whole truth behind this ongoing legal saga. Justice has not yet been served for grieving daughter Eva and the late Doug Benefield.
Public scrutiny may encourage the court to make the right decision in this controversial murder case. Only time will tell whether Ashley shot her husband in self-defense or is it a cold-blooded murder.
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Ashley Benefield is accused of shooting and killing her husband Douglas Benefield in 2020. She claims she acted in self-defense, but prosecutors charged her with second-degree murder.
Ashley and Douglas launched the American National Ballet together in 2017. However, the company quickly descended into lawsuits and turmoil, shutting down within months of opening.
They met at a dinner party hosted by Dr. Ben Carson in 2016. Despite their 30-year age gap, they bonded over conservative politics and got married just 13 days after meeting.
During her pregnancy in 2017, Ashley began accusing Douglas of poisoning her and sent a hair sample to be tested. The lab report claimed to find heavy metals, making Ashley think Douglas had been slipping toxins into her drinks.
After giving birth in 2017, Ashley refused to let Douglas see their baby Emerson for months. Douglas took Ashley to court for shared custody in 2018, beginning a bitter legal feud over their daughter.