Florida man cleaned SUV before attending to wife he killed, police say

Dwight Luton appears in court Wednesday, March 8, 2017, charged with first degree murder with a firearm and evidence tampering in the death of his wife, Ashley Balius, Tuesday evening. Luton told police his wife accidentally shot herself while pulling a gun from her purse. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)
Caption
Dwight Luton appears in court Wednesday, March 8, 2017, charged with first degree murder with a firearm and evidence tampering in the death of his wife, Ashley Balius, Tuesday evening. Luton told police his wife accidentally shot herself while pulling a gun from her purse. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Before attending to his dying wife Tuesday evening, Dwight Luton wiped down the SUV where she'd been shot.

Surveillance footage from Luton's home in Riviera Beach, Florida, chronicled the moments before and after Ashley Balius was killed. City police say Balius was shot once in the head and that Luton tried to clean the scene outside the home on North Canterbury Drive.

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Luton, 32, was arrested on first-degree murder and evidence-tampering charges hours after his wife's death. He briefly appeared in court Wednesday where his in-laws passionately vowed to "see this through to the end."

Luton's bond hearing was rescheduled until Thursday so a private attorney could represent him in court.

Balius' family declined to speak to media.

A former co-worker of Balius, 31, told The Post that she was a strong, hard-working woman who "always did the best that she could." Daniel McDonald worked with Balius at Blue Horizon Casino Cruises out of Riviera Beach, where she was supervisor of the players' club, he said.

Since September 2014, Balius' worked as a partner in Luton's firearm business, Strictly Tactical Firearms, LLC, according to the company's website. County and state records show Luton has owned the business since 2009. According to the website, it offers concealed weapons and shooting classes and sells AR-10s, AR-15s and AK-47s.

Luton and Balius wed in October, according to their marriage license, about six months after Luton was arrested on a battery charge, though the state attorney's office didn't pursue the case.

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Court records show Luton was accused of bruising a woman's face so severely she was sent to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. The victim's identity is redacted from the arrest report, although the woman called Luton her fiancé. She told Riviera police they'd been together since she was 13. Police noted Luton appeared to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of the alleged battery.

He also is accused of being intoxicated in late June, when he drove a car into a utility pole near Military Trail just north of Palm Beach International Airport. Luton, who was injured in the wreck, faces multiple driving-related charges in the wreck, all of which he has pleaded not guilty to. Court records show the case remains open.

Video from Tuesday evening indicates Balius was driving Tuesday evening shortly before she was killed. Surveillance footage shows Balius behind the wheel of a blue 2004 Chevrolet SUV and Luton in the passenger seat. The video shows the car pulling out of the driveway and reappearing in the camera footage about 15 minutes later, according to Riviera Beach police records.

Luton told police the pair watched the sunset that evening on the beach at Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach Shores, about 6 miles from their home off Military Trail near the Rapids Water Park. When they returned home, he went inside to check on the dogs. Balius, he said, stayed in the car.

According to Luton, his wife of less than a year accidentally shot herself while grabbing a gun from her purse. Police found a bag lying on the driveway of the couple's home. A gun was inside, records show, but nothing indicated it recently had been fired.

Footage shot by a security camera pointed toward the driveway shows Luton shortly before 6 p.m. jumping out of the SUV and grabbing a backpack. He then placed the bag on the passenger seat.

Balius appears to reach toward the dashboard, then slumps over, according to the city police account of the video. Police say she sustained a single gunshot wound near her right ear. She died from the injury several hours later, police said.

Luton reportedly is then seen grabbing the backpack out of Balius' path before she slumps into the passenger seat. Video shows him rummaging through the backpack, then wiping down the dashboard, his arrest report said

Luton then appears to fling unknown small objects out the car's door. Police found brain matter on the driveway, presumably where the "unknown small objects" fell.

At one point in the video, Luton is seen reaching over his lifeless wife and opening the driver's side door, the police account says. He then steps out of the car, wipes himself off, and grabs a cellphone. He walks to the end of the driveway and appears to make a call.

Police say the video shows him carrying a silver handgun with his right pinkie finger wrapped around the trigger guard.

He reportedly is seen walking toward the home with a phone pressed to his left ear. About a minute passes before Luton returns to the SUV where his wife was bleeding profusely. He takes off a T-shirt and appears to render aid to Balius. Seconds later, police arrive. The video shows Luton flag them down.

At least 10 women have been killed in the last year in Palm Beach County by their current or former partners, a Palm Beach Post homicide database shows.

Most recent was Chelda Joseph, 32, killed in a murder-suicide by her husband who then took his own life on the Blue Heron Boulevard Bridge. That same week in January, a Greenacres man killed his wife of barely two months, Yessica Bruguera, 36. He "lost control," he confessed to Palm Beach County Sheriff's officials.

Familial cases are the most difficult for law enforcement to predict and curtail, Mike Edmondson, spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, told The Post in late December.

"There you have crimes of passion," Edmondson said.

Staff researcher Melanie Mena and reporter Jorge Milian contributed to this report.