A witness in the murder trial of Melbourne woman Ellie Price has denied having a sexual relationship with her.
On Monday afternoon Mark Gray took the witness stand in the Supreme Court, and told a jury he first met Ms Price at the Men’s Gallery strip in 2017, where she was working.
Ms Price’s body was found with multiple stab wounds in her Park St, South Melbourne apartment on May 4 2020; her partner Ricardo Barbaro, 36, has pleaded not guilty to Ms Price’s murder and is standing trial in the Supreme Court.
Under questioning from Crown prosecutor Patrick Bourke KC, Mr Gray said he gave Ms Price a referral for an apartment after their encounter because “her circumstances were quite unfortunate and I felt sorry for her”.
He said that Ms Price was living with a young child on the couch at a friend’s place, but had been asked to leave.
Mr Gray told the court the pair were “strictly” friends, and that it was “definitely not” a sexual relationship.
Asked by Mr Bourke whether he was aware of Ms Price having other work, he said he was aware she worked in a massage centre, but denied it was a brothel.
He also told the court that he had helped her out financially, including paying six months rent for the apartment she was living in when she was killed, and buying her a cat “because she was lonely”.
Mr Gray was asked about a conversation between himself and Ms Price prior to her death, which he said occurred on Clarendon St, South Melbourne, during the course of which the wind blew a scarf from her neck, revealing marks.
Mr Gray said he was told by Ms Price that it “wasn’t a hicky mark,” but where her ex-boyfriend had tried to “choke her.”
He said the name of the man she had told him was responsible was “Ricardo.”
Earlier on Monday, the jury was played the recorded evidence of Tracey Gangell, Ms Price’s mother, who was asked by defence barrister Rishi Nathwani about her daughter's financial relationship with Mr Gray.
Mr Nathwani asked Ms Gangell if she was aware that Mr Gray had paid for her daughter’s addresses in Melbourne, bought her a sports car and paid her an allowance.
Ms Gangell responded in the negative or that she was unsure to the questioning, which also probed her knowledge of her daughter’s drug use and her employment in a strip club and brothels that Mr Gray had an interest in.
Prior to that, the jury heard Ms Gangell giving evidence under questioning from Mr Bourke, in which she said her daughter had told her she wanted to return to Tasmania “until (Mr Barbaro) Ric was out of her life”.
The court also heard on Tuesday from Ms Price’s sister, Danielle Price, on Tuesday, who told the court she had a “horrible feeling” after not hearing from her sister for multiple days, and of her desire to call the police.
In his opening address last week, Mr Bourke told the jury that Ms Price’s body was found in the bedroom of 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 Wentworth Point, NSW, 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, before Justice Lex Lasry, will continue on Tuesday afternoon, with Mr Gray to continue giving evidence.