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Court upholds conviction in murder of film executive

City News Service | 3/15/2019, midnight
A state appeals court panel this week upheld a San Fernando Valley drug dealer’s..

A state appeals court panel this week upheld a San Fernando Valley drug dealer’s conviction for killing a 20th Century Fox distribution executive who was having an on-again, off-again affair with the defendant’s estranged wife.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found John Lenzie Creech guilty in July 2017 of voluntary manslaughter for the May 2012 beating death of Gavin Smith, a 57-year-old married father of three who was missing for 2 1/2 years before his remains were found in a shallow grave in the Angeles National Forest in the Antelope Valley.

Jurors acquitted Creech of the more serious charges of first-degree murder and second-degree murder, and he was sentenced in September 2017 to 11 years in state prison.

The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge had erred in barring Creech’s attorney from questioning the victim’s widow, Lisa Smith, about certain character traits of her slain husband, which the defense contended could have assisted the defendant with his claim that he had acted in self-defense.

“Although defendant asserts that the trial court barred evidence of Gavin’s `violent’ character, the record does not support this claim,” the three-justice panel found in its 28-page ruling. “At most, Lisa’s statements to the deputies demonstrated that Gavin could be verbally abusive toward Lisa. Lisa never made any statements suggesting that Gavin was physically violent in any way, and in the evidentiary hearing, she made clear that Gavin had never been violent with her ... Even assuming Gavin had been verbally abusive toward Lisa, that would not support defendant’s theory that Gavin had a violent character and therefore was the aggressor in the confrontation.”

The appellate court justices found that the trial court “did not err in finding that Lisa’s statements related to a timeframe that was too remote to be relevant to the crime,” noting that she clarified at an evidentiary hearing outside the jury’s presence that when she spoke to investigators about her husband being cruel or intimidating that she was referring to his actions when he was abusing drugs -- more than four years before the crime.

“Here, the evidence was not probative, and the exclusion of it was not erroneous,” the panel determined.

Smith—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.

At Creech’s September 2017 sentencing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus said he believed the defendant 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 took steps to cover up what had happened to Smith and “made life miserable for the family of Gavin Smith.”