'Shield' actor Michael Jace pleads not guilty in wife's murder case

'Shield' actor Michael Jace pleads not guilty in wife's murder case
CNN
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 4:41pm

"Shield" actor Michael Jace, appearing in a Los Angeles court Wednesday, entered a not guilty plea in the slaying of his wife.

His attorney did not object when the judge set bond at $2 million and ordered Jace, 51, to have no contact with his two children.

A preliminary hearing, in which investigators are expected to testify about why they arrested Jace in the May 19 shooting death, is set for August 1.

April Jace, 40, died from "multiple gunshot wounds," according to preliminary autopsy results. The Los Angeles County coroner ruled the death a homicide, Deputy Chief Coroner Ed Winter said.

Jace, who played a Los Angeles cop in TV's "The Shield," wore a yellow jail jumpsuit and was kept handcuffed while in a glass holding area for Wednesday's hearing.

Police found April Jace shot to death in her south Los Angeles home the evening of May 19, Detective Lyman Doster said.

Michael Jace called 911 to report that his wife had been shot, Detective Dean Vinluan said, adding that he "was on the phone with the operator." Neighbors who heard gunshots also called 911, he said.

Jace's father-in-law also called 911 as he drove to his daughter's home after receiving a message from Jace about the shooting. "My son-in-law called me and texted me and said come get the kids because he shot April, our daughter," he said in a recording released by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

"At this moment, the motive of the murder is believed to be domestic violence," a police statement a day after the killing said.

Two children were in the Hyde Park-area home when their mother was shot, Vinluan said.

Investigators have found no reports of domestic violence between the husband and wife at their residence, another Los Angeles Police Department detective said.

A woman described as a close friend of Jace's first wife said in a sworn statement that she witnessed Jace physically abusing his wife in 1997. The declaration was in court records from Jace's 2005 custody case concerning his son with Jennifer Bitterman.

Jace "choked and hit" his wife and "slammed her against the wall while (their infant son) screamed in his crib next to her," Maria De Le Vegas said in the sworn declaration obtained by CNN.

Jace "was raging and out of control, and seeing the extent of his anger was one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen," she said.

Jace appeared to suffer severe financial strain in recent years, according to court documents obtained by CNN. The actor filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in March 2011, citing $500,000 in debts and an annual income of around $80,000 from residuals from his TV and film work, the documents said.

Jace had defaulted on the $411,000 mortgage on the south Los Angeles home where his wife died, according to the documents.

He married April Jace in June 2003, a year after divorcing his first wife, with whom he shared a son who is now a teen.

The FX police drama "The Shield" provided the biggest and longest-running role in Jace's 22-year acting career. He appeared in 89 episodes as Julien Lowe, who started as a rookie officer in an inner-city Los Angeles police precinct in 2002 and rose through the ranks to become a detective before the series ended in 2008, according to the Internet Movie Database.

He acted on several episodes of "Southland," another TV drama about Los Angeles police, between 2009 and 2012.

Jace often played a law enforcement or military officer on television shows. He is credited with roles in "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Private Practice," "The Mentalist," "Burn Notice" and "NYPD Blue."

He had the title role of Michael Jordan in the 1999 TV movie about the NBA star, "Michael Jordan: An American Hero."

Jace played Officer Brown in Russell Crowe's 2009 film "State of Play," and he portrayed a Black Panther member in the 1994 blockbuster movie "Forrest Gump."

April Jace had worked for the past year as a financial aid counselor at Biola University, a private school in La Mirada, California, according to the school.

"We are obviously shocked and saddened by this terrible news, to lose a wonderful colleague, mother and friend," Biola President Barry Corey said in a written statement.

"April's radiant personality brought great energy to the financial aid office," financial aid director Geoff Marsh said. "Her love for helping students and families and her great work ethic earned the respect and love of her coworkers. Her smiling face and helpful spirit will be missed by all."

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