Brothel owner’s phone analysed
The murder trial over the death of a Melbourne stripper will adjourn for more than a day while investigators comb the phone of a 60-year-old brothel owner.
Ellie Price, 26, was found with significant stab wounds in the bedroom of her South Melbourne unit on May 4 2020, with prosecutors alleging she had been killed five days earlier on April 29 by her boyfriend, Ricardo Barbaro.
Mr Barbaro has pleaded not guilty to her murder and is standing trial before a jury in the Victorian Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, however, the focus of the trial turned to Mark Gray, who changed his name from Mark Gdanksi, an accountant who the court was told ran a brothel in Melbourne and owned multiple brothels in NSW.
Under protracted questioning from barrister Rishi Nathwani, who is representing Mr Barbaro, Mr Gray agreed to hand his mobile phone to a police informant sitting in the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday morning, Justice Lex Lasry told the jury that it would be necessary for the court to take a break until Thursday afternoon in order for the parties to analyse the material on Mr Gray’s phone.
Justice Lasry told the jury that there was “apparently a great deal” of material on the phone, “some of which might be relevant, some of which might not”.
“It’s going to take today and possibly longer,” he told the jury.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mr Gray was asked by Mr Nathwani under cross-examination whether he had provided all of the text messages to police between himself, Ms Price and Ms Price’s mother, Tracey Gangell, before he was asked if he was prepared to hand over his phone.
He was also asked by Mr Nathwani why he had failed to disclose to police in his interview that he was a brothel owner.
Mr Nathwani later put to Mr Gray that he and his “silent” business partners were involved in organised crime and he was “not prepared to name” a person who had reportedly tried to extort a NSW business of his.
Mr Gray said this was “definitely incorrect” and “absolutely incorrect”.
The court was told that Mr Gray began his interest in adult venues in Melbourne in 1992, when he changed his name, until 1996 when the court was told he was suspended for employing a 17-year-old.
After his suspension, the court was told Mr Gray left Melbourne for Sydney, where he owned The Golden Apple and Liaisons.
Mr Gray said he met Ms Price in 2017 at The Men’s Gallery, a strip club in Melbourne, and agreed to act as a referee for her.
“Did you engage her in a lap-dance at all?” Mr Nathwani asked Mr Gray.
“No,” Mr Gray replied, and he also denied being in a sexual relationship with Ms Price.
He was also questioned about his financial relationship with Ms Price, with the court hearing he paid for her $1000-per-week serviced apartments, a “sub penthouse” in St Kilda and her final home in Park St, South Melbourne.
Under questioning from Crown prosecutor Patrick Bourke KC, Mr Gray said Ms Price had tried to extort $100,000 from him in April 2020, threatening to tell the police he had raped her unless he did so, the court was told.
In his opening address last week, Mr Bourke told the jury that Ms Price’s body was found in the bedroom of her unit with six stab wounds, including to her neck, chest and back.
He said Mr Barbaro had left Ms Price’s address in the early hours of the morning on the same day she was allegedly murdered, which the prosecution alleges was April 29.
Mr Bourke said Mr Barbaro’s fingerprints were at the scene, including a fingerprint on Ms Price’s bathroom mirror in blood, and the accused was arrested in the Sydney suburb of Wentworth Point on May 14.
He said Ms Price had made police complaints against Mr Barbaro over alleged violence, and she had told her mother before her death that she wanted to return to her home state of Tasmania until the accused was out of her life.
Mr Nathwani told the jury last week to ask themselves if Ms Price had “upset” anyone in her employment in strip clubs who would want to harm her.
The trial will continue on Thursday, with Mr Gray to continue giving evidence.