As trial looms in Lakewood Ranch death, both sides speak

ABC7 News at 6pm
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 5:59 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2022 at 6:52 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (WWSB) - A tumultuous relationship ends in a shooting and the family of the victim is left with a lot of questions.

In 2020, after a rocky four-year marriage, Doug and Ashley Benefield had an argument in their Lakewood Ranch home. It ended when Doug was shot and killed.

As Ashley Benefield prepares to go on trial this summer for second-degree murder, family members and attorneys in the high-profile case are speaking to ABC7.

The couple’s relationship began quickly. Doug met Ashley, a ballet dancer, at a 2016 Republican Party fundraiser. The pair were married less than two weeks later after falling madly in love. She was 30 years his junior.

Less than a year after they married, their daughter, Emerson, was born. But the marriage was punctuated with fights and reconciliations and a failed business venture, a ballet school in Charleston, S.C.

The couple finally talked about a divorce. On Sept. 27, 2020 they began fighting over a custody agreement concerning their daughter. Manatee County Sheriff’s 911 operators received a call from neighbors. When they arrived on scene, Ashley told authorities she shot her husband during a domestic dispute.

Deputies say they found no evidence to support this claim. Ashley was charged with second-degree murder.

Sarasota attorney Stephanie Murphy represented Doug in the couple’s divorce. She told ABC7 she had suspicions about Ashley’s claims. ”What better way to get rid of someone than just to kill them and then claim self-defense?” said Murphy.

Doug’s family says he was planning to move Ashley and all her belongings to Maryland. His cousin, Tommie Benefield, explained to ABC7 that he was picking up the last box for her U-Haul when he was shot.

“We don’t know the words that were said, but what we do know is that he had packed up a U-Haul of Ashley and her family’s stuff to move to Maryland -- literally the next morning -- and was picking up the last box in her closet to move to the U-Haul when she shot him,” said Tommie Benefield.

Ashley’s attorney, Neil Taylor, says that is an inaccurate representation of events.

“I don’t believe that the plans Mr. Benefield had were consistent with the plans Ms. Benefield had. Sometimes, we want to make things happen and we would like to have it our own way, but that doesn’t meant that the other party shares that perspective,” said Taylor, speaking to ABC7 to address the narrative he believes the media has created.

Doug’s family and former attorney says the entire story feels calculated.

“This young beautiful woman ... and Doug was an older man ... she could spin it that Doug was abusing her. What she forgot in the plan is that she had made so many false allegations. There were so many law enforcement officials throughout Florida and South Carolina who would’ve said no … this isn’t adding up. Your stories aren’t adding up,” attorney Stephanie Murphy explained.

Eva Benefield, Doug’s daughter from a previous marriage, also spoke to ABC7. Eva’s mother, Rene, died in 2015 from heart disease and within five years, Eva had to mourn the loss of her mother and her father.

“If I could just ask one question to Ashley, is why would you take away your own child’s dad when you grew up without one? And why would you take another child’s dad when you know that she didn’t have a mom to begin with?” said Benefield.

Ashley’s attorney says that at the end of the day, everyone deserves a fair trial and that he will fight the allegations.

“She’s very distressed by the perception that has seemed to be displayed by, really, many of the media outlets, that she was a conniving plotting individual, which is quite far from the actual truth of the matter,” Neil Taylor explained.

As for Ashley’s daughter with Doug, Doug’s family hopes to gain custody. Ashley is expected to go to trial sometime this summer.

Editor’s Notes: This web story has been updated to more accurately reflect the status of the case in the court system.

Copyright 2022 WWSB. All rights reserved.