A San Fernando Valley drug dealer was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison for killing a 20th Century Fox distribution executive who was having an on-again, off-again affair with the defendant’s estranged wife.
John Lenzie Creech, 45, was convicted July 3 of voluntary manslaughter for the May 2012 beating death of Gavin Smith, whose remains were found 2 1/2 years later in a shallow grave in the Angeles National Forest in the Antelope Valley.
The 57-year-old married father of three — who was a member of UCLA’s 1975 NCAA-winning basketball team under Coach John Wooden and had worked for 20th Century Fox for 18 years — was killed near a West Hills business park near Creech’s home where the victim was having a late-night tryst with Creech’s then-wife, prosecutors said.
Jurors acquitted Creech of the more serious charges of first-degree murder and second-degree murder, settling on the lesser count of voluntary manslaughter. Creech insisted the killing was an act of self-defense, but the jury appeared to believe he acted in the heat of passion.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus — who denied the defense’s motion for a new trial and imposed the maximum term — said he believed Creech was “the architect of most of what happened in this case.”
The judge called Creech’s conduct “extremely egregious,” noting that he “made no effort or attempt to get medical help” for Smith and that he “made life miserable for the family of Gavin Smith” by taking steps to cover up what had happened to him.
“They could have known what happened to him on May 2nd instead of being in the dark for two years,” the judge said, noting that it was “abundantly clear that the only thing that he (Creech) cared about was himself.”
Smith’s wife, Lisa, and two of the couple’s three sons urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Creech.
The widow told the judge that Creech beat her husband to death and then had to “take him and hide him.”
“He wouldn’t man up to what he did,” she said in an emotion-packed victim impact statement. “Eleven years isn’t enough, but I understand that’s the maximum you can give him.”
The couple’s eldest son, Evan, said what has happened has “turned my life upside down.”
“I suffer from PTSD now because of this man in this courtroom,” he said, telling the judge that Creech deserves the longest prison term available for “savagely ripping my dad out of my life.”
Another of the couple’s sons, Dylan, told the judge that his father was the “kindest man I ever knew.” He said his dad’s memory “lives on with me and the rest of my family.”
As for his father’s killer, Dylan Smith said he wants him to “rot in prison.”
One of Creech’s longtime friends, Dakota Mitchell, said he believed what happened was “an aberration, not who I knew him as.”
Deputy Public Defender Irene Nunez asked the judge for a shorter prison term for Creech and unsuccessfully requested that her client — who has two prior drug convictions and is still facing a federal drug case — be allowed to serve the prison term in any penal institution.
The judge responded that he hopes any additional time Creech faces in the drug case is tacked on to the 11-year sentence, not ordered to be served concurrently, and said he agreed with Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace’s assessment that Creech had shown “little to no remorse for what happened.”
“I was almost shocked by his statement that he couldn’t possibly have sought help because he was an ex-felon and I just didn’t understand that,” the judge said.
Speaking directly to the defendant, Marcus said, “It doesn’t matter what the verdict of the jury was. Your actions speak volumes about the kind of person that you are.”
The judge said he was going to `honor the jury’s verdict, then said at another point that there were some indication that “there was some planning in this situation.”
“I believe and I will say for the record that I believe that he went out there for the two oldest motives — jealousy and pride … I believe he went out there to find her in the company of Gavin Smith,” the judge said, noting that Creech used a telephone app to track down his wife.
“That was evidenced to me by the fact that he had tried to chase down the car a few weeks earlier when he saw his wife get into a car with somebody, so he was well aware that his wife was seeing somebody else. I don’t think it took a big leap to see that person was Gavin Smith, so I believe that he did go out there for the purpose of confronting and dealing with Gavin Smith in this circumstance,” Marcus said.
Outside court, the prosecutor told reporters, “We certainly respect the verdict here. We certainly felt that the facts of the case warranted a murder conviction and I think that that was evidenced by the judge’s comments. John Creech intentionally killed Gavin Smith and it’s just a shame that he wasn’t found guilty of murder …”
In his closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury that Smith “was executed in cold blood by this defendant, who hit him repeatedly in the face” after using a cell phone with GPS to track down his estranged wife, Chandrika Cade, and sneak up on the two in Smith’s Mercedes-Benz.
Grace told jurors that Creech and his wife had an “unconventional marriage” in which the two “both cheated on each other,” and that it was “essentially a countdown to murder” when Creech “first uttered the threat” to two of Smith’s sons in 2010 that he would kill their father if he continued to see Cade.
Smith’s affair with Creech’s wife began in 2008 and broke off the following year after Smith was confronted by his own wife, the prosecutor said. But Smith and Cade began exchanging email messages again in 2010, Grace said. When Smith’s wife found out, she drove with two of her sons to Creech’s house, where he told Smith’s two sons, “You saved your father’s life by coming here today,” according to the prosecutor.
Two years later, however, when the romance rekindled again, Creech made good on his threat to kill Smith, Grace said.
Creech’s attorney countered that her client had made “errors in judgment” by concealing Smith’s body and car after lawfully defending himself in a fight that he testified was initiated by Smith.
She acknowledged her client was a “convicted drug seller” but told jurors that there was “no intention to kill” and that he “had to fight for his life” after the man who had “intruded” into his life and marriage approached him outside the Mercedes with a weapon following a fistfight between the two men inside the sedan.
Creech testified in his own defense, telling jurors that he took “full accountability” for failing to call 911 after what he described as mutual combat or to seek help for Smith.
The defendant testified that Smith threw the first punch, choked him and tried to gouge out his eye as the two men struggled inside Smith’s car, but the prosecutor told jurors that the injuries to Smith and Creech were “not consistent with self-defense” and that Creech’s subsequent actions demonstrated a “stunning consciousness of guilt.”
–City News Service
—City News Service