Chef's Alleged Murder-for-Hire Plot Thickens

Juan-Carlos Cruz CBS

The allegations surrounding former Food Network star Juan-Carlos Cruz keep getting more bizarre.

He's charged with attempting to kill his wife, Jennifer Campbell, and police say he may have wanted to commit suicide after she died.

CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reported on "The Early Show" Tuesday Cruz pleaded not guilty to murder-for-hire charges.

If convicted, Cruz could face life in prison.

Los Angeles deputy district attorney Joseph Markus said, "The first count is attempted murder. It's a willful deliberate and pre-meditated attempted murder and count two is solicitation of murder."

The former TV chef who hosted "Calorie Commando" was arrested last Thursday for allegedly trying to hire at least two homeless hit men, reportedly offering to pay them $1,000 each to kill his wife.

According to a video acquired by the gossip website TMZ.com, one man said, "This guy comes up to me and says I got a job, and I say what job and he says, 'Dirty deeds done dirt cheap, and it pays a grand.'"

However, Tracy reported, a source close to the case says Cruz has talked to his wife since his arrest, and that there is more to this than meets the eye, and the couple is still very much in love. Another source tells CBS News that Campbell has been despondent for years over the couple's inability to have children. Whether there is any link between that and the alleged plot is unknown.

TMZ.com reports Santa Monica police and L.A. County District Attorney sources say Cruz was trying to honor his wife's wishes to end her life. The site reports Campbell ascribes to the Roman Catholic belief that suicide is a mortal sin. The site reports he then planned on killing himself.

Cruz is now being held on $2 million bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 23.

CBS Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom said on "The Early Show" Tuesday that reports that the alleged murder-for-hire plot was actually part of a murder-suicide pact isn't a defense. Rather, she said, it's more of a possible motive for prosecution.

She said, "It doesn't really help the defense to have some kind of explanation for why you would want to commit a murder."

Bloom continued, "If he solicited these homeless men for any reason to take the life of his wife, that's going to be attempted murder and solicitation, which is exactly what he's charged with. Now, the only way the defense could possibly use that as I see it is some kind of a diminished capacity: He was so distraught, he was so upset that he couldn't form premeditation or first-degree murder. Might knock down to second-degree murder. But I think that's a stretch."

"Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez pointed out the homeless men who say he solicited them for murder might not be the most credible witnesses.

But Bloom said the evidence is what will talk in this case.

"I think (the recorded evidence is) absolutely critical for law enforcement," Bloom said. "Of course the defense is going to attack the two witnesses and say they're not credible, perhaps mental issues, perhaps they're motivated by money -- giving an interview to TMZ. But, look, if they have a recording of the chef talking to these homeless men and soliciting them for murder, that recording is going to be key evidence in the case. I think that's the real question here is what does he say on the wire."

Bloom has covered several hit man cases, and said it's common for people looking to kill to go to people with a criminal history, or have nothing to lose.

She said selecting homeless men "makes sense in that context."

Bloom added, "Keep in mind if you do hire somebody like this, then you can attack their credibility. So it makes sense from sort of a plotting point of view. Horrendous, though, no matter how you look at it."

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