LOS ANGELES (AP) — Terrence Howard tearfully told a judge Friday that his ex-wife repeatedly threatened to leak damaging information about him to get him to sign a divorce settlement in 2012.
The Oscar-nominated actor broke down while discussing the threats during a hearing in which he is trying to overturn the settlement agreement on grounds he signed it under duress. Howard said he was concerned his ex-wife, Michelle Ghent, would leak details about his sex life, and audio and video recordings of him.
Howard said the release of such information in 2012 would have ended his career. The 46-year-old actor now stars on the hit Fox series “Empire.”
“I was terrified of her releasing the private tapes,” Howard said, explaining that the video showed him in “intimate settings.”
Howard again lost his composure during cross-examination by Ghent’s attorney, who questioned the actor about domestic violence allegations. Howard requested a court recess after being questioned about several allegations of violence toward women.
With a photo of a Ghent with a black eye displayed on a screen in the courtroom, Howard acknowledged that he had struck his first wife out of anger. But he denied he had abused Ghent, saying any attacks on her were self-defense.
The actor said he married Ghent in 2010 out of love but was already aware that she had taken private audio recordings he had made and downloaded them to her computer. He testified that she threatened to release them during their engagement, during which he admitted he was unfaithful to her with multiple women.
Ghent’s attorney, Sai’id Vakili, pointedly questioned Howard about why he would remain with Ghent despite her alleged blackmail scheme.
“I loved her,” Howard said. “I thought she had perhaps made the threats out of anger.”
In a deposition, Ghent denied she tried to blackmail Howard, her attorneys have said. She has accused Howard of domestic violence several times and has an active restraining order against him.
Howard said he had hoped to get the recordings back from Ghent during their marriage but was unsuccessful. Among the items he said Ghent had obtained were a recording of Howard’s last conversation with his mother, phone sex conversations with other women, and recordings of songs he had written.
None of those materials have been played in court, but a key piece of evidence has been a 2011 recording of Ghent berating Howard and threatening to release embarrassing material about him.
Howard said he paid Ghent $40,000 after she threatened to release materials including a video of him naked and dancing in the bathroom. Asked by his attorney whether he considered the payment hush money, Howard responded, “I consider it blood money.”
The actor said the threats continued while their divorce settlement was being finalized.
He said he was afraid Ghent would “release the video and audio of me in a very private and intimate place and I would never be able to work again in this business.”
In the 2011 conversation, Ghent is heard telling Howard, “I will (expletive) bury you deep within the ground.”
She said she had video of Howard singing naked in the bathroom and could sell it for $2 million. She also told the actor that she had called the Internal Revenue Service to report improper deductions.
Howard’s testimony will conclude Monday. Superior Court Judge Thomas Trent Lewis told attorneys Ghent would not be allowed to testify because her lawyers hadn’t submitted a sworn declaration from her.
Howard and Ghent were married in 2010, and she filed for divorce a year later.
The divorce agreement gave Ghent several bank accounts and left Howard with responsibility for several debts, including tax liens. The settlement also called for him to pay his wife a share of his earnings in spousal support.
Howard received an Oscar nomination for his starring role in 2005’s “Hustle & Flow.”
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