LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California jury returned a manslaughter verdict Monday in the death of a former Fox distribution executive who was having an on-again, off-again love affair with his estranged wife.
Two years ago, prosecutors charged John Creech, 44, with one count of murder with a special allegation of lying in wait for the May 1, 2012, killing of Gavin Smith, an executive and former Hollywood stuntman who struggled with an addiction to prescription painkillers. Smith had met Creech’s wife, Chandrika Cade, during a stint at a Woodland Hills rehabilitation center.
Though the jury found Crech guilty of voluntary manslaughter, it cleared him the first-degree murder and second-degree murder charges.
Jurors began deliberations Friday morning at little before 10:30 a.m. They had to restart deliberations from scratch on Monday morning after Juror No. 2 failed to show up in the morning or call the court. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus replaced the absent juror with an alternate, and they jury returned the verdict at 11:30 a.m.
As the clerk read the jury verdict, Smith’s wife Lisa bowed her head deep toward her lap and cried.
Creech had pleaded not guilty to the charges. His criminal defense attorney Irene Nunez argued during closing arguments that her client had acted in self-defense after discovering his wife with Smith in Smith’s jet-black Mercedes in a secluded spot in San Fernando Valley, according to news reports.
Creech had tracked them down using a GPS tracking app on his phone. But according to Nunez, after the two men exchange blows and Cade fled, Smith came at Creech with a weapon. She urged the jurors to find him not guilty because she said the killing was lawful.
But prosecutor Bobby Grace told the jury during the trial that murder was entirely premeditated and 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 sedan.
In his opening arguments, Grace showed the jurors a photo of the front interior of the vehicle. Blood stained the upholstery on the passenger seat, and the photo also appeared to show a bloody handprint.
“This became Gavin Smith’s tomb,” Grace said during opening arguments.
Grace said he was not happy with the verdict but was pleased that jurors had determined that Creech was legally responsible for killing Smith.
“My take on the verdict was that they felt that heat of passion mitigated or knocked it down from a murder to a manslaughter,” Grace said.
Smith was a former UCLA basketball player who worked as a distribution executive for Fox. In October 2014, hikers discovered the skeletal remains of his body in a shallow grave in the Angeles National Forest.
According to prosecutors, Creech persuaded Cade to return to the scene 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, 2012, 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 victim’s Mercedes.
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.
During the trial, which began June 15, Creech took the stand and testified he acted in self-defense after Smith came at him with a multi-purpose tool. His attorney explained away his behavior after the killing as the desperate actions of a convicted ex-con who was too afraid to call the police, and he’d made some judgments of error when he decided to conceal the body.
Creech is expected to return to court on Sept. 19 for sentencing. He faces a maximum sentence of 11 years in state prison, according to Grace.