For most of his career, Michael Jace was known for playing police officers on NYPD Blue, The Shield, Law & Order, and more. However, in May 2014, he got a different reputation after killing his wife in cold blood. When the news hit the headlines, no one understood how he went from acting to killing.
Around the time Michael was cast on The Shield, he divorced his first wife and married April in 2004. Michael and April had been married for nearly ten years when he murdered her. Their marriage was never perfect, but no one expected it to end in this horrific way.
He Was Paranoid
Actor Michael Jace and his wife April were a month shy of celebrating their 10th anniversary. Although April posted a sweet message for her husband the previous year, their relationship had been on the rocks for a while. Michael and April had been arguing more often, and he was paranoid.
On May 19, 2014, Michael went on a downward spiral. He believed April was having an affair and wanted a divorce, so he spent most of the day drinking and texting her to find out who she was sleeping with. He had no evidence, but the anger took over him.
He Was Waiting for Her
Later that evening, Michael texted April that he had left their home. However, that was not the truth because he was waiting for her. When April arrived home that evening, Michael waited till she walked into their house and came up behind her with a gun and shot her in the back.
As their two sons, ages eight and five, watched, Michael then shot her in the leg because he wanted her to be in pain. April was an avid runner for most of her life, and Michael’s last words to her were, “You like to run so much. Why don’t you try running to Heaven?”
He Turned Himself In
After killing his wife, Michael texted his father-in-law, “Come get the boys. I shot April,” before calling 911. He told the police that he shot his wife and instructed them where they would find his gun and April’s body because he didn’t want them to think he was still armed.
Michael was arrested early the next morning on suspicion of homicide and held on $1 million bail. His children were extremely upset after witnessing the shooting and were taken to the police station while they waited four hours for Children’s Services to take them to a family member’s home.
It Escalated Over Time
Three days after the shooting, Michael was formally charged with murder by the LA County District Attorney’s Office. As police investigated the incident, they dug into the couple’s background, finding they had had problems for years. Investigators also discovered Michael had violent tendencies in the past with his first wife.
Michael and April had also been dealing with financial hardships. In 2011, Michael filed for bankruptcy to restructure and reduce his mortgage payments. While the settlement helped him, he stopped making the monthly payments by the end of 2013 and was on the brink of foreclosure. It was a source of tension in their home.
She Had Defended Him
When Michael divorced his first wife, Jennifer Bitterman, in 2002, April was involved in their messy divorce. April defended Michael even though Bitterman claimed that he abused her. April told the divorce judge that Michael provided a stable home for his child.
April never addressed the claims that he choked and hit Bitterman, going as far as calling Bitterman a bad mom. She thought Michael was a good man and defended his character. Unfortunately, she would see Michael’s violent behavior right before her death.
A Terrifying Father
The police uncovered that Michael was a horrible father to the son he had with Bitterman. According to court documents from his divorce, Michael threatened his son with corporal punishment, spanking him for crying or being afraid. His son would beg Bitterman not to leave him with Michael.
Bitterman would tell her son, Jordan, not to be afraid of his father. She would encourage him and reassure him that he was safe with Michael. Jordan never believed that, and he later found out that Michael killed April, proving he was as scary as he thought.
The “Perfect” Family
Whatever problems they had as a couple, Michael and April hid them well because neighbors described them as the “perfect couple.” One neighbor said, “They were what I would describe as the Huxtables on the block.” Michael and April seemed happy together.
Their neighbors were shocked to hear about the murder, saying, “The mother’s gone; she’ll never be back. Dad’s gone; he may never be back. These children are parentless; it’s so sad. They’re the ones who suffer.” It was a tragedy that affected more than just Michael and April.
He Pled Not Guilty
Although he called the police and admitted to shooting April, Michael pled not guilty to murder in his preliminary hearing. There was no denying that he killed his wife, but he wanted to go to trial to see if he could get a lesser charge than first or second-degree murder.
Initially, authorities didn’t understand why Michael shot April. It took some digging to uncover a possible motive. Investigators discovered that April had asked Michael for a divorce the morning of her murder. That, coupled with their financial problems, might have pushed him.
What Was the Reason?
Two years after his arrest, Michael’s trial began. His defense attorney, Jamon Hicks, acknowledged that Michael killed April, so the defense team approached the trial by trying to explain the actor’s mindset when the incident occurred. His not guilty plea didn’t mean much.
In Hicks’ opening statement, he said, “This case is not about who did it. We acknowledge it. We accept responsibility. This case is not about how it was done. This case is about why it was done.” His attorneys said his unstable state of mind would be a key in his defense.
He Didn’t Want to Kill Her
When the police interviewed Michael after the shooting, he told them he never intended to kill his wife. He claimed he only wanted to hurt her and didn’t know April was dead when he called 911. Michael also told investigators that he had other plans.
Michael planned to take his own life, but he didn’t have the courage and instead wanted to harm his wife. He told police, “I was just angry. All I intended to do was shoot her in the leg. And then I shot her in the leg, and that was it.”
His Son Testified
Michael’s son Nehemiah was called to the witness stand during the trial. He was eight at the time of the murder and ten during the trial. Nehemiah told the court that he heard his father say, “If you like running, then run to heaven,” before shooting her.
Nehemiah revealed that he, his brother, and his mom had just returned from his baseball game. He said his father was in the dining room when they got home, and his mom and younger brother sat on the couch for a few minutes before Michael told him to go to his room.
The Irony of It All
Because Michael was an actor, the case gained publicity. Ironically, he was best known for playing police officers and military officials. For six years, he played officer Julien Lowe on The Shield and officer Brown in 2009’s State of Play.
Michael also had the title role of Michael Jordan in 1999’s TV movie about the NBA star, Michael Jordan: An American Hero. He played all these characters on the right side of the law, and then he did something cruel and lawless. It made everything about the case all the more ironic.
When Michael was arrested, he told detectives, “I just ruined lives. Four lives. I mean, you could put the needle in my arm right now and be done. I’m fine with that.” However, during the trial, Michael showed no emotion.
The prosecution pushed for a first or second-degree conviction because they believed April’s murder was somewhat premeditated. Michael waited for her to come home and planned to shoot her. Meanwhile, his defense team argued for a voluntary manslaughter conviction because Michael was in a poor state of mind.
Their Final Messages
A key piece of evidence in Michael’s trial was the information recovered from April’s phone. On the day of her murder, April told her husband she wanted a divorce. While she was out, he texted her throughout the day, and she told him she was scared.
April wrote in a message sent hours before her death, “I don’t want you throwing things and breaking things and screaming lies to the boys. I am afraid to come home.” She was genuinely scared of Michael and his temper because she knew what he was capable of.
People Knew They Had Problems
Kenneth Brown knew Michael through church and worked with him on The Shield. He testified at the trial that Michael “always” asked him to pray for his marriage, which suffered because of Michael’s extended unemployment and the couple’s financial issues.
Brown discovered Michael had a gun at home during a church security team training event a few weeks before the murder. The gun belonged to April’s father, but Brown didn’t think Michael would use it to hurt April. Then, five days before the incident, Michael told Brown his marriage was a mess.
He Witnessed Them Arguing
On May 18, 2014, April’s nephew, Christopher, and her older son from a previous relationship, Savoy, slept at the couple’s home. On the morning of May 19, Christopher woke up to hear Michael yelling at April, “You don’t have a godly reason for a divorce.”
Christopher told the court that the argument lasted a few more minutes before he heard two crashes. Savoy grabbed a baseball bat, and Christopher followed him to investigate. They found Michael and April in the dining room with a broken vase and a knocked-over ironing board.
He Lied to Them
When Christopher and Savoy walked into the room, Michael tried to grab the baseball bat from Savoy. April wanted to de-escalate the situation, telling Christopher to take the bat. Michael also repeatedly said, “I would never put my hands on your mom.”
April left with Christopher and Savoy a few minutes later, but the situation shook everyone. She was uncomfortable and texted Brown to check on Michael. According to testimonies, Brown messaged Michael, “When trouble comes, be full of joy.” The response was concerning and a warning for what was to come.
A Warning Sign
Michael told Brown, “It may be too late. April wants out, and I’m tired of pleading.” Brown invited him over that night, but Michael declined, writing, “She’ll accept it, or we’ll move on. If she isn’t who I thought, a lot changes, but she’ll get what she wants; a way out.”
Around 6 pm, Brown extended the invitation to Michael again. Instead, he wrote, “Appreciate it, but s**t is going to hell fast, and I wouldn’t be good company.” Brown asked if he was staying home, with Michael responding that he was leaving that evening.
He Accused Her of Being Unfaithful
Michael offered to leave their home for the night. He asked April what time she would be home so he could be gone before she got there. Michael then accused April of having an affair, saying, “You’ve thrown me under the bus, April, and you are walking out on the boys.”
April tried to make things better by apologizing and asking Michael to come to their son’s baseball game. Instead, he said he went to his friend Evan’s house. He also claimed he had been drinking since the morning and told her Evan said hello. But he never went to Evan’s house.
He Claimed It Was an Accident
Recordings of Michael’s police interview were played for the court. He told the police that April lunged at him when she got home. He claimed, “There was a knife. I don’t remember if it was on the table,” but the police didn’t find a knife.
He said he pushed April away and fired a shot but didn’t know where he hit her. Michael tried to make it seem like it was an accident, but the shots to her legs were on purpose. He had “never laid a finger” onin April before the incident.
He Got What He Deserved
At the close of the trial, Michael argued that the prosecution had insufficient evidence to prove the murder was premeditated. The judge denied the motion and expressed doubts that it was voluntary manslaughter because it wasn’t a crime of passion. Michael also decided not to testify.
The jury found Michael guilty of second-degree murder with the “intentional and personal discharge of a firearm causing death.” The court sentenced him to 40 years to life. Michael got what he deserved because he could have walked away and instead chose to kill April.
She Was Loved
Before her untimely death, April worked in the financial aid office at Biola University. Everyone was shocked and saddened by the news of her death. People described her as a “wonderful colleague, mother, and friend.” They said she was radiant and brought “great energy” to the office.
April loved helping students and families who came through the financial aid office. Her boss said, “Her smiling face and helpful spirit will be missed by all.” No one understood why Michael went so far to take her life, but he revealed something after his arrest.
A Track Star
Throughout her life, April was an avid runner. She ran with the Elite Health team and later with the Trojan Masters Club. In 2011, April was ranked number five in the United States and won a gold medal at the World Championship on the USA 4×100 relay team.
Even though she left her track and field career behind, April still loved running. She was the 2013 Southern California USATF W35 champion and proved to be an incredible competitor. Unfortunately, her love of running was used to mock her moments before her death.
He Wanted Her to Lose Something
After April asked for a divorce, Michael was hurt. He called his brother, Carlo, from jail, saying it was an accident because he was a little drunk. Michael said the gun was for himself, not April, but he couldn’t go through with killing himself.
He revealed to Carlo, “I was in so much pain because I knew she was going to leave me. I wanted her to be in pain like I was. I wanted her to lose something, which is track.” Michael wanted to make things even between them.
Her Family’s Pain
April’s family couldn’t believe she was gone when the incident occurred. They called it a “senseless act of domestic violence.” Many people donated to help pay for April’s funeral, and the family thanked everyone for their prayers and support. Her death was unnecessary.
Michael addressed April’s family in court. He said, “There is absolutely no justification for my actions on that night. I am profoundly sorry for the pain that I’ve caused everyone.” He said it was important that April’s family knew the murder was not premeditated.
Her Children Suffered
Not only did Michael take April’s life, but he also took a mother away from her young children. Their sons were left without a mother and father because of his crimes. Their sons also witnessed the shooting, which has had horrible effects on them.
April’s family stated, “We cannot reverse the senseless violence that resulted in April’s death, but we can invest in the lives of her innocent children that are paying the price for it.” Even when the press stopped reporting, her children carried the tragic loss.
He Tried to Appeal
After his conviction, Michael tried to appeal his sentence for a lesser charge. In January 2019, a three-justice panel from California’s Court of Appeals found “compelling evidence that Michael Jace acted with the malice required for second-degree murder.” They noted that Michael told detectives he intentionally shot April’s legs.
The appeals court didn’t help him, so Michael tried to take his case to the California Supreme Court. They refused to review his case, but the appeal panel ruled that it should be sent back to trial as a result of a new state about firearms.
There Was Intent
The California Supreme Court refused to hear Michael’s case because his intent was clear. He used the words “go to heaven” and shot April a second and third time after he had already shot her in the back. Michael had no argument for voluntary manslaughter.
If it were an accident, Michael wouldn’t have shot her in the legs after shooting her in the back. He was waiting at home with the gun in hand, wounding April once before standing over her and shooting her again. The appeals court can’t overlook these facts.
He Is Still in Prison
Today, Michael is incarcerated at the Corcoran State Prison, where he is serving 40 years to life. At 59 years old, he will most likely remain behind bars for the rest of his life. Many people get divorced and don’t kill their spouses, so he deserves his punishment.
Meanwhile, his children have remained out of the news and were raised by April’s family. They needed years of counseling after witnessing their mother’s murder and will carry that for the rest of their lives. We can only hope that justice has helped them heal.