More than five years after 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith was killed, convicted drug dealer John Creech was found guilty today of voluntary manslaughter. Acquitted of the original charge of first-degree murder and also of second-degree murder by the jurors, Creech faces up to 11 years behind bars for the lesser crime.
Having avoided life in prison from the harsher charges, the defendant is scheduled to be sentenced on September 19 by Judge Stephen Marcus in L.A. Superior Court. After Marcus had to dismiss an absent juror and substitute an alternate this morning, the jury of nine women and three men spent about 30 minutes in renewed deliberations before returning to court with the verdict.
Hikers found Smith’s greatly deteriorated body on October 26, 2014, in a grave in Angeles National Forest. The case of the nearly two-decade 20th Century Fox employee was declared a homicide in March 2013 after the former UCLA basketball national champion’s black Mercedes 420E was found that February in a Simi Valley, CA, storage locker.
That locker belonged to one John Creech. Police declared him the person of interest in the case soon afterward. Convicted in September 2012 for his most recent stint behind bars, the suspect was not in jail at the time Smith disappeared. It also was known to police that Creech and his wife knew Smith personally.
The weeklong trial that concluded on June 29 revealed that Smith and Creech’s estranged wife, Chandrika Cade, were having a relationship. The defendant also admitted that he confronted Smith and Cade on May 1 in the movie distribution executive’s Mercedes parked in a West Hills business park. Then out on bail, Creech said he tracked down the couple using a GPS app. He declared that Smith started things by getting physical. Either way, that confrontation escalated to the 1975 NCAA champ Smith being fatally injured.
Creech insisted that he never meant to kill Smith but did acknowledge “full responsibility” for not doing anything to help the injured man nor contact medical authorities. He also admitted to burying Smith’s body and stashing his car after the violent incident.
Cade was in the courtroom today when the verdict was read.
The case, which was profiled on America’s Most Wanted in fall 2012, was prosecuted by L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace with the Major Crimes Division.