'Mercy' Motive in Calorie Commando Chef Cruz Hitman Case?

The 'Calorie Commando' tried to hire homeless men to kill his wife, police say.

May 17, 2010, 9:58 PM

May 18, 2010 — -- Bizarre new details have emerged in the case of a cookbook author and former Food Network chef who is accused of trying to hire two homeless people to kill his wife.

Juan-Carlos Cruz, who hosted the Food Network's "Calorie Commando," gave homeless men ten $100 bills, each cut in half, Santa Monica, Calif., police said. Cruz allegedly told the men that they would get the remainder of the money when the job was done.

Cruz, 48, was led into Superior Court in handcuffs Monday. He pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and solicitation of murder during the arraignment.

In an unusual twist, sources tell ABC News that a possible motive could be related to the couple's decades-long struggle with fertility problems, and that Campbell was despondent over her failure to conceive children.

The sources also suggested that Campbell may have wanted to end her life, but that as a devout Roman Catholic, she believed suicide was a sin.

The possible motive, then, was that Cruz may have been acting out of mercy -- trying to help end his wife's suffering.

Even if that was true, however, prominent defense attorney Roy Black, who is not connected to the case, said it might not help Cruz that much.

"It's pretty out there, but it's not a legal defense," he said, even if Cruz's wife comes forward to back up that theory.

"It'll have a factor, but it doesn't give him a defense. It's certainly going to mitigate punishment," he said. "It's entirely different from killing your wife to collect the life insurance."

The best any lawyer could do for Cruz, Black said, was to mitigate the punishment.

The former Food Network host could face life in prison if convicted. His lawyer, Shawn Chapman Holley, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Cruz was arrested May 13, a week after a homeless man told the Santa Monica Police Department's homeless liaison officers about the alleged solicitation and an investigation was launched.

The liaison officers help obtain social services for transients and try to get them off the streets, said Setareh Yavari, the city's human services coordinator.

"A lot of people in the homeless community know them and trust them because they have a relationship with them," Yavari said. "It doesn't surprise me that they would go to (police) with something like this. There's a sense that they're taken seriously."

The chief witnesses told the website TMZ that Cruz gave them a box cutter, gloves and the money.

"This guy came up to me and said 'I have a job.' I said 'what kind of job?' He said 'dirty deeds done dirt cheap,'" one witness told TMZ.

The second witness told TMZ that Cruz wanted them to "cut this woman's throat."

Cruz is married to attorney Jennifer Campbell. Her lawyer, Blair Berk, had no comment.

Chef Wrote of Loving Relationship With Wife

Amy Reiley, Cruz's co-author in a cookbook, "The Love Diet," scheduled for release next month, said she was devastated to learn of his arrest.

"I know him as a giving individual who is passionate about inspiring others to change their health through diet in the way that Juan-Carlos changed his own," Reiley said in a statement on her website.

Reiley, who has known Cruz for six years, said the chef wrote candidly in the book about maintaining "a loving 30-year relationship with his wife."

Cruz was formerly a pastry chef for Los Angeles' exclusive Hotel Bel-Air where he fashioned desserts for many rich and famous clients. As a result of his job, his weight ballooned to 280 pounds, according to his biography in the "Juan-Carlos Cruz Calorie Countdown Cookbook."

He went on Discovery Health Network's "Body Challenge" show and shed 100 pounds. He then landed his own show on Food Network, which focused on converting fattening recipes to low-calorie versions that tasted the same. The program ended in 2006.

Food Network said it had no comment because Cruz has not been under contract for a number of years, and the network has no current relationship with him.

Superior Court Judge Keith L. Schwartz set Cruz's bail at $2 million, and scheduled a preliminary hearing for June 23.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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