Terrence Howard’s Nasty Divorce: 11 Disturbing Claims in the Court File

The actor’s messy divorce features allegations of violence, death threats, extortion, and racial slurs. Maria Elena Fernandez looks at the case file.

Michael Buckner / Getty Images

Terrence Howard, best known for his Oscar-nominated performance as a pimp with hip-hop aspirations in Hustle & Flow, is experiencing a different sort of drama these days: His divorce from his wife of one year is shaping up as one to live in infamy as far as celebrity splits go. The Howards have accused each other of physical and verbal abuse, extortion, and threats of more bodily harm in court papers. Although many of their problems appear to have started soon after they were engaged in May 2009, that didn’t stop them from getting married on Jan. 20, 2010.

According to court papers, the honeymoon lasted only a week. By Jan. 27, 2010, Michelle Ghent Howard discovered her husband had a secret second cellphone and a nasty fight ensued. In her court declaration, Michelle Ghent Howard says her new husband “slugged” her in the face and neck. But in his court account, Terrence Howard, 42, says it was his wife who struck him and called him racial slurs throughout their marriage.

Whatever happened, they stayed together another year, separated, reconciled even after she had filed for divorce in January 2011, and then separated again. In a nutshell, Michelle Ghent Howard says Terrence Howard calls, texts, emails, and Skypes her at all hours of the day and night, and threatens to do her physical harm. Terrence Howard, in turn, says she harasses him and has been threatening to ruin his career by releasing audio recordings he had made of conversations with other people in his life before he met her.

On Dec. 5, a judge granted Michelle Ghent Howard a restraining order based on her claims that Terrence Howard has caused her physical injuries that required medical attention, once broke her computer in half, repeatedly threatened her, and stalked her by telephone and on the Internet. But now, Terrence Howard will fight for his own restraining order against his wife for her “constant threats of extortion” and harassment, at a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 17.

Among the biggest revelations in the court file obtained by The Daily Beast are:

1) Michelle Ghent Howard, 35, said she did not know about Terrence Howard’s domestic-violence history until after she had married him. The actor pleaded guilty to charges of disturbing the peace in 2002, after he was arrested for forcing entry into his first wife’s home after they had a phone argument, chasing her into the backyard, and punching her twice in the face, according to police records in Pennsylvania.

2) Terrence Howard said his wife was very jealous and would repeatedly hit him in public if he responded in a friendly way when female fans approached him. She also would threaten to spit on the fans. Throughout their marriage, Michelle Ghent Howard would insult him and call him “bitch,” “monkey,” and the N word. In one instance, he said, she told him, “I never wanted to marry a [N word] in the first place.”

3) After they were engaged in 2009, Terrence Howard said, he offered his fiancée a position within his company as a liaison “between me and the rest of the world.” Two months later, she visited his home in Philadelphia and he asked for her help downloading a conversation he had recorded between the actor and his mother before she died. At the time, Terrence Howard said, he had numerous “Dictaphones” stored in his dresser, containing many private conversations and recordings. When he returned an hour later, Michelle Ghent Howard was in the process of downloading all his files into her personal computer and said she was “organizing.” Terrence Howard said he asked her to erase the files from her computer and she said she would.

But a month later, during a fight about finances in which Michelle Ghent Howard was asking for more money for her monthly expenses, she brought up the recordings: “You think I don’t still have a copy of your f----- up recordings? I heard the conversations that you had with previous girlfriends and if I wanted to? Trust me.” Later, she apologized and claimed she didn’t really have the recordings anymore, but Terrence Howard says this was only the beginning of her many threats to sell the recordings. On one occasion, he said, she also threatened to have him killed: “If you go to the police, I will have you and your entire family clipped. I know where you and they live and I have a lot of Russian friends who would do it as a favor. So, watch your step, stupid-ass [N word].”

4) In July 2010, Michelle Ghent Howard traveled with her husband to South Africa when he was filming Winnie, and the couple had many problems while staying in a hotel in Johannesburg, including an incident that warranted calling a doctor to treat her for physical injuries. One day, they got into a fight, Michelle Ghent Howard says, so she moved into a different room, and her husband tried to push his way inside, so she unlocked the door. He grabbed her by the neck, threw her across the room, causing her head to hit the corner of the bed’s headboard. She says he then picked her up and took her to the balcony and said, “I’m gonna f--king throw you off this balcony.” When she screamed for him to stop, he dropped her on the ground. Later, he apologized when he saw the lump on her head. A few days later, they had another fight and Terrence Howard hit her in the face, chipping her tooth with his wedding band, she says. Three days later, their personal assistant called a doctor to come to the hotel to check on Michelle Ghent Howard. The court file contains a bill for $2,080 from Doctors on Call for the house call, and a list of the doctor’s findings, including that he treated her for multiple contusions to the head, elbow, and calf.

5) In his declaration, Terrence Howard only addresses one incident in South Africa that he says occurred one day when he got back from filming. He said Michelle Ghent Howard asked him if he spoke to any women that day. When he responded that he needed to go over his lines for the next day, she replied, “I should bust this bottle across your face so you can’t go to work.” She continued to make such threats and, he said, he tried to lock himself in another room, but she stopped him on the way and tried to bite him. She then lunged at him again with the bottle, they both fell on the ground, he managed to get away, and went to the hotel lobby and asked security to call police. When police arrived, Michelle Ghent Howard was throwing his clothes off the third-story balcony. He says he later asked police not to charge her because he was afraid that she would “retaliate” against him.

6) On Jan. 3, 2011, Michelle Ghent Howard said, the couple were arguing via text messages all day. That night, she asked him where he had been all day and Terrence Howard responded: “You are my enemy, you should watch it and be careful to not turn the corners too fast because I will hurt you.” He then grabbed a knife, slammed it into the wood island in the kitchen and told her to stab him with it. She chose to walk away. He moved out on Jan. 15, and she filed for divorce on Jan. 27.

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7) In April of 2011, the Howards reconciled, despite Michelle Ghent Howard’s claims that Terrence Howard continued to threaten to do her physical harm, just weeks before she flew to Minnesota by herself to have a hysterectomy (she was diagnosed with adenomyosis and endometriosis) in March. During those few months, Terrence Howard constantly reached out to her by phone and on the Internet, sometimes begging for her to take him back and sometimes threatening her. She agreed to reconcile with him after he began therapy for his violent behavior, she said. In July, after enduring more verbal and physical abuse—and another incident in Palm Springs in which he broke her computer in half—Michelle Ghent Howard said, she decided to leave him for good.

8) A month later, there was even more turmoil. Terrence Howard’s attorney, Christian Markey, wrote a letter in August to Michelle Ghent Howard’s lawyer, Karen Donahoe, stating that Michelle hacked into his client’s email account, sent false, malicious, defamatory emails to his friends, and changed the password so he could not use the account anymore. According to the letter, she also withdrew $260,000 from his bank accounts.

9) Later that month, Michelle Ghent Howard received a suggestive voicemail message from a woman on her cell that was meant for her husband. When she responded to the text message, she received a reply from a man that she forwarded to Terrence Howard, asking him not to give her number out. Terrence Howard called the number and left a message, threatening to kill the man, and then told Michelle Ghent Howard he had done so. Days later, the recording was posted on Radar Online.

10) A month later, Terrence Howard’s business manager received a call from Michelle Ghent Howard saying her husband needed to call her right away. When he called her, she made threats of selling the contents of the stolen audio files as well as a video of him singing naked in the bathroom if he didn’t immediately transfer money into her account. She called him a “f--king tw-t” and added: “I will f--king bury you deep in the ground with all the information I have.” Michelle Ghent Howard hung up and texted Charlie McBride, the business manager, asking for a bank transfer. In the texts, which appear in the file, Michelle Ghent Howard also wrote: “But seeing that you guys think I’m stupid..Its [sic] fine I will do a stupid thing” and, “But that’s OK, I will sell some of Terrence’s belongings to cover expenses.” Terrence Howard said he transferred $40,000 into her account that night.

11) Over Thanksgiving weekend, Terrence Howard called Michelle Ghent Howard and told her “I felt like killing myself today.” He stalked her for several days after, on the telephone, until he sent the following email on Dec. 2:

“If you wanted, you could crush me with the push of a button. I have no recourse, I have pleaded with Jehovah to fortify my heart that I do not fall into angry and revengeful retaliation against my forsaken love. I ask that you allow time for me to be more solid in my faith before you carry out what you feel you must, so that I may take the discipline and not resort to retaliation and reviling for reviling. I am in complete acceptance of my sentence and the charges. Its [sic] funny how clearly things become when your sober. I am struggling at present to remain true to a newly dedicated state of mind and way. I am being frightened by the ugly that can happen as a result of loosing [sic] everything and your wife to your one time friend, but I am prayful [sic]. I don’t want to harbor hate and resentment in my heart especially against someone that I love. I sincerely regret my actions and I pray that you use wisdom in dispensing the discipline that I have coming. Remember, I am newly reconciled to being a servant of Jehovah. Satan is taunting me and there is no rest for my mind. So I beg you not to exercise the right that you have, divorce me and do what you wish but do not crush my families [sic] already threatened livelihood. I can’t promise how I will respond. In Jesus’ name I am praying.”

Three days later, Michelle Ghent Howard was granted a restraining order against her husband. It expires on Jan. 17—the same day that a judge will decide if he will now force Michelle Ghent Howard to stay away from her husband.