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Brothel boss denies visit after alleged murder

The court was told Ms Price was found with multiple stab wounds and her throat cut. Picture: Supplied.
The court was told Ms Price was found with multiple stab wounds and her throat cut. Picture: Supplied.

The owner of a “brothel empire” has denied he visited the home of slain mum Ellie Price the day she was allegedly killed.

On Tuesday, the last of four days spent being questioned before the Victorian Supreme Court, Mark Paul Grey returned to the witness box.

Mr Gray is giving evidence to the trial of Ms Price’s boyfriend, Ricardo Barbaro, who is accused of murdering the 26-year-old mother-of-one at about 4.30am on April 29, 2020.

Mr Barbaro has pleaded not guilty, with his lawyer, Rishi Nathwani, labelling the case a “whodunit”.

“To be clear this is a whodunit, that is Mr Barbaro denies that he killed Ellie Price,” he said in his opening remarks.

“Did she upset anyone to a degree they would want to harm her?”

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Mark Gray has denied he was Ellie Price’s “sugar daddy”. Picture: NCA NewsWire

Under questioning from Mr Nathwani, Mr Gray denied visiting Ms Price’s South Melbourne apartment at 6.27am, saying he was “at home tucked up in bed”.

Mr Nathwani suggested Mr Gray’s phone records “put you in the vicinity” of Ms Price’s home on Park St, when he lived about 5 to 7 km away in Brighton.

This prompted a stern rebuke from Justice Lex Lasry who said there are “technical issues” which could cause his phone to connect to that specific tower “as you sure well know”.

Prosecutor Damien Hannan later told the court the records indicate Mr Gray could have been in the area “up to 11am”.

Mr Gray told the court he “can’t remember” what he did that day, but knows he didn’t visit Ms Price’s home and could have been visiting a former brothel, Harem, he was attempting to revive in the area.

“There were renovations taking place so I may have been there,” he said.

Ms Price, 26, was found murdered in the bedroom of her South Melbourne apartment on May 4. Picture: Supplied
Ms Price, 26, was found murdered in the bedroom of her South Melbourne apartment on May 4. Picture: Supplied

Earlier, Mr Nathwani suggested Mr Gray arranged for the “meanest men” he knew as a brothel owner to “deal” with Ms Price and Mr Barbaro after she threatened to extort him.

“That is denied in total,” Mr Gray responded.

Previously the court was told Ms Price had demanded $100,000 from Mr Gray in the days before her death, threatening to make a police report claiming he raped her.

The court heard he paid her a $25k first instalment, which was later given to her family.

Despite spending a “small fortune” on Ms Price since they met in 2017, Mr Gray denied he was her “sugar daddy”.

He told the court Ms Price was struggling financially when they met and he was loaning her money to help get back on her feet.

He described her as a close friend and said he believed “with a bit of guidance and training” she could work for him in a managerial role when he opened Harem.

Supplied
The court was told Mr Barbaro and Ms Price began dating about eight months before her death. Picture: Supplied.

Mr Nathwani put to Mr Gray that a rape allegation could have “brought into question” his brothel licence application.

“Not only had she scorned you, she then took on your businesses by alleging rape … you could have had problems as far as your business was concerned.”

Mr Gray said he did not accept a rape allegation would have damaged his chances of being approved.

Mr Barbaro was arrested in New South Wales about a week after Ms Price’s body was discovered in her blood soaked bedroom on May 4.

Prosecutors allege that he murdered Ms Price during an early morning argument six days earlier before leaving her home in Ms Price’s Mercedes-Benz “never to return”.

Mr Hannan said the prosecution would allege Mr Barbaro left the state “shortly” after his father, Joe Barbaro, told him detectives had visited and were looking for him.

The trial, before Justice Lex Lasry, continues.