The mother of a woman allegedly murdered by her boyfriend has been accused of being “instructed” by a brothel owner of what to say in court.
Ellie Price’s remains were discovered by police in her blood-soaked bedroom while conducting a welfare check in May 2020.
The 26-year-old’s throat had been cut and she was found with multiple stab wounds, as investigators formed the view she was murdered six days earlier.
This week, her former boyfriend Ricardo Barbaro, 36, is facing trial before the Victorian Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to murder.
On Tuesday, Ms Price’s mother Tracey Gangell took the stand as she was questioned repeatedly by Mr Barbaro’s barrister, Rishi Nathwani, about her daughter’s relationship with another man called Mark Gray.
Mr Nathwani told the court the pair met while Ms Price was working as a dancer at a Melbourne strip club, with Mr Gray soon beginning to financially support her.
He suggested text messages between Mr Gray and Ms Gangell indicated he was “spending a lot of money on Ellie”, including paying her rent, a $1000 weekly allowance and giving her a Mercedes Benz.
Ms Gangell described their relationship as “exceptionally close” friends, but said she didn’t know if there was anything else to their relationship other than financial support.
“He was hoping (to marry Ms Price) but Ellie only liked him as a friend, he was just a good friend to Ellie,” she said.
Text messages read to the jury between Mr Gray and Ms Price’s sister, Danielle, ahead of an earlier court hearing for Mr Barbaro reveal he had “instructed” her on what to say, Mr Nathwani suggested.
“My tip is to memorise three responses; I don’t know, not to my knowledge, and I’m not sure, they will hate that LOL,” Mr Gray allegedly messaged Danielle.
“I want you to remember one regard in relation to anything negative about Ellie; ‘I don’t know’ … that will really spoil their day LOL.”
Mr Nathwani suggested Mr Gray had met with the two women to “get their stories straight” because he didn’t want the court to find out he was financially supporting Ms Price and that he owned brothels in Melbourne and Sydney.
Under questioning Ms Gangell denied she had been instructed on what to say and denied she had deleted text messages with Mr Gray covering a year after Ms Price’s death.
Prosecutors, led by Damien Hannan, allege Mr Barbaro killed Ms Price during a violent altercation in the early hours of April 29.
In his opening address, Mr Hannan said the case would be built on DNA evidence at the crime scene, a history of alleged violence between the pair and Mr Barbaro’s “conduct” after the alleged offending.
He told the jury CCTV captured Ms Price’s Mercedes-Benz leaving the property at 4.30am on April 29 “never to return” and Mr Barbaro’s mobile phone records would place his phone “in the vicinity” of the Mercedes-Benz as it travelled through Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
In his opening address on Monday, Mr Nathwani said questions would be raised about whether others had a motive for Ms Price’s death.
“To be clear this is a whodunit, that is Mr Barbaro denies that he killed Ellie Price,” he said.
“Did she upset anyone to a degree they would want to harm her?”
Questioning Ms Gangell, Mr Nathwani suggested her daughter‘s relationship with Mr Gray had soured in early 2020.
He read text messages between Ms Gangell and Mr Gray from early April where Mr Gray alleged Ms Price had attempted to extort $100,000 from him by threatening to make a rape report with police.
Ms Gangell told the jury she did not believe her daughter would attempt to extort Mr Gray.
“Ellie would never say anything like what was in that email,” she said.
“I don’t believe she made that on her own.
“Ellie was a nice girl, she had a heart of gold and I can’t see her throw away a good friend like that.”
The trial, before Justice Lex Lasry, continues.