Ice addict committed to stand trial for alleged murder of Maryborough grandmother Karen Ashcroft
A methamphetamine addict accused of murdering a regional Victorian grandmother while he was on bail has been committed to stand trial.
Karen Ashcroft, 52, was at a friend’s house in the central Victorian town of Maryborough in May this year when she was fatally stabbed.
Percydale man Ben Wardlaw, 39, was charged with one count of murder and one count of committing an indictable offence whilst on bail after he was arrested following an eight-hour man hunt on May 14.
He has pleaded not guilty and will face a directions hearing at the Melbourne Supreme Court on January 11.
The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard Mr Wardlaw, who had a history of cult worship, was an ice user also withdrawing from opioids and had not slept for days in the lead up to the incident.
Alleged killer had been injecting ice
Witness Alex Bustard, who owned the Alma Street unit where the alleged attack occurred, told the court he had been smoking and shooting up ice with Mr Wardlaw before the incident.
Their friend Kiri Adams said Mr Wardlaw had been injecting a large amount of methamphetamines.
“Benny [Mr Wardlaw] had injected three points of ice while he was in the bathroom with Alex listening to Tupac,” Ms Adams told the court.
“Alex said to him ‘what the f**k? That was meant for three or four people’.”
The court heard Mr Wardlaw was also withdrawing from methadone and taking pain medication Lyrica in the days leading up to the alleged killing.
Emergency services at the house where a woman was found dead in Maryborough on May 14, 2018. (ABC News: Peter Lenaghan)
Accused tells friend he ‘had to do it’
Witness Kerrin McCallum, who lived at the unit, told the court she saw Mr Wardlaw concealing an orange knife under his arm pit.
“Ben had been staring at Karen [Ms Ashcroft] and Mick [witness Michael Anderson] all night. When Karen got up to walk out he striked (sic) her,” Ms McCallum said.
Mr Bustard told the court he grabbed Mr Wardlaw after the alleged knife attack on Ms Ashcroft.
“I put Ben in an arm bar and took him outside to work out what had happened,” he told the court.
“Ben said to me ‘I had to do it. You’ve got to help me’.
“He asked me for another knife. I thought he wanted a knife to go kill himself.”
Mr Bustard told the court he noticed Mr Wardlaw’s mental condition change in the days leading up to the night in question.
“He was definitely not himself and it would bother me, the fact he was starting to get paranoid.
“He would talk about drones following him and he thought everyone was out to get us.”
Friend tells court ‘I can’t get image out of my head’
Witness Michael Anderson, who went to the unit with Ms Ashcroft, told the court Mr Wardlaw had no interaction with Ms Ashcroft on the night of the party and stabbed her without warning.
“It was 2:30 in the morning. We were leaving the party. I heard a loud thud and when I turned around I saw Karen had been injured,” Mr Anderson said.
“I saw Ben’s arm across the front of Karen’s chest like he was about to clothesline someone.
“He was acting weird and quiet but I thought that was just his nature. He looked like he was in his own little world.”
Witness Nathan Schooler also told the court Mr Wardlaw was acting out-of-character on the night.
“I saw a knife come past me and stab a woman in the chest,” Mr Schooler said.
“I can’t get the image out of my head.”
Alleged killer said he ‘felt nothing’
Dr Grace Vittor from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Evidence assessed Mr Wardlaw several times after he was taken into custody.
“He told me he just felt nothing. He didn’t want to speak about the event,” Dr Vittor said.
Mr Wardlaw’s defence argued he was not in the right state of mind when the alleged killing took place.