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Former Food TV chef insisted that wife's would-be hit man not harm dogs, give them treats

December 14, 2010 |  7:41 am

Juan Carlos Cruz

Former Food TV chef Juan Carlos Cruz told a homeless man whom he hired to kill his wife to avoid harming his two dogs and consider strangulation with pantyhose to avoid leaving a "bloody mess," say newly released court documents obtained by The Times.

The documents show Cruz elaborately planned how he wanted his wife killed and even provided doggie treats so his dogs would not bark.

Cruz did not know that the homeless man, David Carrington, had been cooperating with Santa Monica police detectives as he and Carrington sat in a car near the suspect's Westwood condominium May 12 to review the murder plot.

The planning included photographs of the residence, potential escape routes, locations of building surveillance cameras and security codes, according to the 22-page report released Monday. Cruz talked about killing his wife with both Carrington and another homeless man, David Walters.

The defendant "asked Walters to strangle the victim and to use pantyhose to strangle her if he wanted, and said something to the effect of, 'If it ends up bloody, that's fine ... but I prefer not to have a mess,'" the document said.

Cruz received nine years in state prison after pleading no contest in October to attempted solicitation of murder. The sentence handed down by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Chester Horn Jr. also required that the 48-year-old Westwood resident pay $1,870 in restitution and serve half his prison term before he is eligible for parole.

Attorney Shawn Chapman Holley, who is representing Cruz, would not comment on the details in the probation report but said that by accepting plea deal, the time Cruz would spend behind bars amounted to less than four years compared to the alternative.

"Because the attempted murder charge carried a mandatory life sentence, the risk of going to trial was simply too great," Chapman Holley said Monday night.

The sentence brings to a close a case that stunned those who knew Cruz and his wife Jennifer Campbell, his high school sweetheart and a Los Angeles attorney. On Monday, Campbell declined to give a victim-impact statement or comment on the case.

Cruz is best known as a lively cooking personality with television appearances on the Food Network and Discovery Channel, and several books, including "The Love Diet."

Cruz told detectives when he was arrested that his wife had been "going through a midlife crisis" after unsuccessfully trying fertility treatments for over a decade, according to the report. The couple were more than $200,000 in debt and Cruz believed killing his wife was "a 'merciful' way to end her suffering."

Cruz, who told detectives he had considered taking his own life, said that Mother's Day was especially painful for his wife and that he could not bear seeing her. When investigators asked Cruz when he began looking for someone to kill his wife, he told them that he had been looking for several weeks and wanted the task completed by Mother's Day.

The plot began to unravel May 7 when a homeless man known to police in Santa Monica was arrested for illegal camping and told investigators that his friend had been asked to carry out a murder for which he was given $1,000, a throwaway cellphone and box cutter.

Cruz contacted Walters near the intersection of the 3rd Street Promenade, telling him he wanted to kill "a female 'family member,'" the report said. Walters then walked with Cruz to get "details of 'the job'" similar those that had been laid out for his friend Carrington.

The initial plan was for Walters to slash the throat of Cruz's wife with a box cutter before Cruz was to  pick her up at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wellworth Avenue. But Cruz changed his mind and decided to make the killing look like a botched burglary at his residence.

But detectives had been in on the planning all along, according to the document. In the final meeting, Cruz allegedly told Walters not to let the victim scratch him. Cruz also told Walters that the victim kept her jewelry in a dresser drawer and that he was welcome to take it.

Walters was instructed to write down the address of the residence and alarm code. He was also told to be out by 7 p.m., when the victim's trainer would come to the residence.  At the residence, Walters was handed a baggie of dog treats and was told he would need them to keep the dogs quiet.

On May 13, investigators arrested Cruz without incident at a Cheviot Hills park.


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-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Cruz in court Monday. Credit: KTLA News