Michael Jace was a violent, abusive husband who choked his wife in front of their kid ... this according to legal docs from his prior divorce.
Jace -- who was booked Tuesday morning for allegedly murdering his wife April -- went through a divorce in 1997. In the docs -- obtained by TMZ -- a friend of Jennifer Bitterman claims she personally witnessed Jace choking and slamming Jennifer against a wall ... as his 6-month-old son screamed in his crib next to them.
The friend says he was raging and out of control and "seeing the extent of his anger was one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen."
The friend continues ... there were multiple physical assaults on the ex-wife.