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

By Alan Duke CNN | 6/18/2014, 4:14 p.m.
"Shield" actor Michael Jace, appeared in a Los Angeles court Wednesday, June 18, 2014, entering 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. (POOL)

LOS ANGELES - "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 for 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.

"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.