LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man standing trial for the murder of former Fox executive Gavin Smith claimed self-defense Thursday, while a county prosecutor painted the killing as premeditated and sparked by an on-again, off-again love affair between Smith and the defendant’s wife.
Prosecutors have charged convicted 44-year-old drug dealer John Creech with one count of murder with a special allegation of lying in wait for the May 1, 2012, killing of Smith, an executive and former Hollywood stuntman who struggled with an addiction to prescription painkillers, according to prosecutor Bobby Grace.
Creech pleaded not guilty to the charges. He appeared in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom Thursday morning for the first day of trial, dressed in a suit, white shirt, and blue tie.
Grace told the jury that Creech had decided to murder the 57-year-old Smith after Creech’s wife, Chandrika Cade, had reignited a love affair that began in 2008 when Smith and Cade met at the Matrix rehabilitation center in Woodland Hills, California.
The prosecutor recalled a fateful encounter between Creech and Smith’s sons Evan and Austin in December 2010. Smith’s wife Lisa had discovered what she believed were threatening emails from Creech to Smith and had driven over to Creech’s West Hills residence to talk to him.
In a heated conversation, Smith’s two sons talked to Creech in the foyer and apologized for their father’s behavior, Grace said.
“You saved your father’s life by coming here today,” Creech told the sons, while their mother waited outside in the car, according to the prosecutor.
He called the 510 days that elapsed between that encounter and Smith’s disappearance on May 1, 2012, a “countdown to murder.”
“Five hundred and ten days in which defendant first uttered the threat he made to Gavin Smith’s sons, which was a down payment on the promise that he made,” Grace said.
The night of Smith’s disappearance, he had arranged to meet Cade in a secluded residential neighborhood in San Fernando Valley for a tryst in Smith’s jet-black Mercedes-Benz. When Creech discovered that Cade was not home, he used a GPS app on their family’s phone plan to track his wife’s location. Driving in a gold Mazda minivan he borrowed from Cade’s ailing grandmother, Creech surprised his wife and her lover.
Prosecution and defense offered sharply contrasting accounts of what happened next.
In his opening argument on Thursday morning, Grace said that Creech had killed Smith with his bare hands in an attack of “stunning brutality” and “almost indescribable violence” after Smith tried to fight back from the passenger seat of the Mercedes.
Grace showed the jurors a photo of the front interior of the car. Blood splattered the upholstery on the passenger seat, which also appeared to show a bloody handprint.
“This became Gavin Smith’s tomb,” Grace said.
Jurors also viewed an image of Smith’s skull, devoid of orbital bones because Creech “brutally caved Gavin Smith’s face in with his fists,” the prosecutor said.
That image was juxtaposed with a photo of the blond and tanned Smith shooting a whitened smile at the camera.
After Creech attacked Smith, Cade fled in the Mazda, according to Grace.
“The evidence will show at the point that Chandrika Cade left that it appeared to her that Gavin Smith was unconscious and that her husband was continuing to beat Gavin Smith with his fists, and that she explicitly warned him verbally, ‘You’re going to kill him,’” Grace said.
Creech also told her, “You’re next,” according to Grace.
But Creech’s criminal defense attorney Irene Nunez said her client had more to fear from Smith, who was 17 pounds heavier than her client, taller and had an “eight pack.”
Smith’s wife Lisa had called her husband “scary, intimidating and cruel,” Nunez said. He was a womanizer who snorted OxyContin, made fun of his wife’s weight and was known to explode in rage when he was driving, she added.
Nunez said Creech had awakened in his West Hills residence back in 2012 to find his wife gone. Earlier that evening she had been drunk and high, Nunez said. After checking in on their three daughters, he had borrowed the Mazda and gone looking for her.
Nunez said Creech did not sneak up on his wife and Smith as Grace had asserted but banged on the hood. Smith had verbally abused Creech, and as the two men fought on the passenger side of the Mercedes, Smith had choked Creech and gouged at his eyes. The fight continued outside the car, Nunez said. When Creech believed the fight was over, he began to walk back to his car.
She said that Smith had then charged at Creech with a hammer.
“On the end is an ice pick,” Nunez said, adding that Creech kicked Smith’s legs from beneath him.
“He had to defend himself against this scary, intimidating and cruel man,” Nunez said, urging the jury to find her client not guilty.
Smith was a former UCLA basketball player who worked as an executive for Fox. Hikers discovered the skeletal remains of his body in October 2014 in a shallow grave in the Angeles National Forest.
According to prosecutors, Creech persuaded Cade to return to the site of their tryst to retrieve Smith, and they burned their bloody clothes in a fire pit.
After calling his friend Jorge Valles and bodybuilder Stan McQuay in the early hours of May 2, Creech had covered Smith in a blanket and parked the Mercedes-Benz in the garage of McQuay’s Porter Ranch home, Grace said.
Creech also asked Reina Lim, who was looking after Cade’s grandmother, to book a U-Haul truck and storage space in Simi Valley, California.
Lim thought Creech wanted the space for a motorcycle. Instead, he used the truck to move Smith’s body and the storage space to hide the Mercedes, according to prosecutors.
Nunez argued that none of Creech’s actions were premeditated, that he had been “frantic” after the incident and that he and Lim had prayed for Smith.
“The face of Gavin is always going to haunt John,” Nunez said.
When prosecutors charged Creech in January 2015, he was serving an eight-year jail sentence after pleading no contest to one count of sale or transportation for sale of a controlled substance, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. If convicted, Creech faces 25 years to life in state prison.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus is presiding over the trial. Witness testimony was expected to begin Thursday afternoon.