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Murder trial begins for former 'Shield' actor

Posted: 3:03 PM, May 23, 2016
Updated: 2016-05-24 08:07:01Z
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Opening statements are expected to begin Tuesday in the murder trial of an actor who played a police officer in the television series "The Shield."
 
Attorneys and a judge are hoping to finalize jury selection Tuesday and begin opening statements in the trial of Michael Jace, who is accused of killing his wife of nine years in a shooting that was at least partially witnessed by their young sons.
 
The actor called a police dispatcher and said he had killed his wife, authorities say. A recording of the call has not been released.
 
Jace also phoned his father-in-law to pick up the children, according to another 911 call released by fire officials.
 
The actor has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have said his state of mind on the day of the killing will be a key element of his defense.
 
April Jace, 40, was a financial aid counselor at Biola University and had two sons with the defendant. The boys were 8 and 5 when she was killed.
 
Her family called her death a senseless act of domestic violence.
 
Michael Jace worked steadily in small roles in films such as "Planet of the Apes," ''Boogie Nights," ''Forrest Gump" and the television series "Southland."
 
Prospective jurors were asked Monday for their thoughts on domestic violence, infidelity and technology.
 
Defense attorneys have said the contents of April Jace's iPhone might be important to the case. That prompted a prosecutor to pay a security consultant to have the contents of the phone retrieved after Apple said it could not assist in unlocking the phone, Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef told Superior Court Judge Robert Perry before jury questioning began.
 
Perry has said jurors may be told that April Jace was having an affair before she was killed, although how much testimony will be elicited about the affair remains to be seen.
 
M. Gerald Schwartzbach, a defense attorney who won actor Robert Blake's acquittal in a murder case, said a defendant's state of mind is an essential element of a criminal trial. In a murder case it can mean the difference between a first degree murder conviction or a conviction on a lesser charge, such as voluntary manslaughter, he said.
 
That can mean "the difference between likely spending the rest of your life in prison or not," Schwartzbach said, noting he has not been involved in Jace's case and couldn't comment on any potential evidence or defense strategy.
 
Schwartzch, who recently wrote a book about his career called "Leaning on the Arc: A Personal History of Criminal Defense," said although Jace may have admitted he killed his wife, it's important to examine what happened at trial.
 
"Sometimes good people can do bad things under extraordinary circumstances, when they are somehow pushed to a limit and their mind crosses a line," he said.
 
Perry urged jurors Monday to put aside any notions of criminal trials they had gleaned from television or movies, telling prospective jurors the tidy resolutions achieved quickly onscreen are "done for dramatic effect. This is a search for the truth."