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A former professional ballet dancer has been arrested for fatally shooting her estranged husband amid a bitter custody battle over their daughter, Florida authorities said.
Ashley Benefield, 28, allegedly opened fire while her husband, Doug Benefield, 58, had his back to her on Sept. 27, inside a home in the gated community of Lakewoood Ranch, the Bradenton Herald reported Friday.
The former dancer claimed her husband attacked her before she shot him, but detectives found no signs she had been physically abused or that she was acting in self-defense, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said.
The former dancer and bikini model was, according to some, similar to the devious character from the theatrical film “Black Swan.” Ashley and Doug Benefield knew each other for just 13 days before they got married. She was 24 years old; he was 54 years old and a widower. Four years later she ended up with one of them dead and the other charged with second degree murder.
“To Doug… Ashley is this pure, innocent white swan,” says Stephanie Murphy, attorney for Doug Benefield’s family. “But under those white feathers… she is an evil woman… She is the Black Swan.”
The couple had separated and Ashley was staying with her mother in a neighborhood in the community called Central Park.
Doug, who lived elsewhere, showed up at the house that night and the two were the only ones inside when the shooting happened, deputies said.
Detectives said Ashley fired four shots from a .45-caliber handgun, hitting Doug twice, and two other bullets were found lodged in a wall, according to an affidavit obtained by the Herald.
Investigators said that based on where Doug was hit, “it does not appear that he was in front of Ashley when she started shooting,” the court document states.
Agents also found no signs of a struggle on Ashley, except for a minor scratch apparently given the day before, the affidavit says.
Court records show the dancer began filing domestic violence complaints against Doug about two years ago, shortly after realizing she was pregnant.
“It appears that the primary purpose of these complaints was to keep the child away from Douglas,” the affidavit states.
Recently, Ashley had tried to file a court order to keep Doug away from her daughter, but the judge in the case determined that her story of abuse did not have “a grain of truth,” the court document says.
The judge ordered that Doug be able to visit her son and “at this point, it appeared that Ashley had exhausted all legal means to keep the boy away from Douglas prior to the shooting,” the affidavit says.
When officers arrived, Doug was still alive, with a bullet in his leg and another that had grazed his right arm and entered his chest. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.
After spending weeks reviewing the case and finding nothing to support Ashley’s claims of violence, investigators issued a warrant for her arrest and she turned herself in Wednesday night.
Arrested and Charged
She was charged with second-degree murder and remains behind bars without bond pending a later court date.
Before moving to Florida, the couple had lived in Charleston, South Carolina, where they founded the short-lived dance company American National Ballet in 2017, according to the Post and Courier.
Doug, who had worked in the defense and private equity sectors, served as CEO and tried to get the ballet off the ground. He later walked away from the company, which had imploded in 2018.
In a statement to WFLA-TV, Doug’s cousin Tommie Benefield described him as “caring, kind, sweet and loving.”
“My family and I are extremely relieved that the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, with nothing but evidence, was able to arrest her…” the statement said. “That gives us some hope that justice will be done and that they will be held accountable for her murder.”