LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury found Monday that a drug dealer crushed the skull of a movie studio executive who had been having an affair with his wife, burying him in a shallow desert grave that would go undiscovered for two years, authorities said.
The Los Angeles County Superior Court jury rejected first- or second-degree murder but convicted John Creech, 44, of voluntary manslaughter for the beating death of Gavin Smith, 57, a 20th Century Fox distribution executive, five years ago.
Smith’s wife, Lisa Smith, cried in court when she heard the not-guilty murder verdicts before the manslaughter verdict was read.
Smith also played basketball at UCLA under John Wooden on the 1975 team that brought the legendary coach his 10th and final title in the last year of his career. Prosecutors displayed a picture of him in his uniform during their closing argument.
Prosecutors said Creech killed Smith because Smith was having an affair with Creech’s estranged wife, Chandrika Cade. The two had met in drug rehab and been in a sporadic affair for years.
In May 2012, Smith and Cade were having a romantic rendezvous inside Smith’s Mercedes-Benz sedan in a secret spot in the West Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Creech tracked them down with an iPhone app that allowed him to track his wife’s phone.
In the fight that followed, Creech crushed Smith’s skull on both sides, according to the autopsy.
“He deliberately, viciously, intently, delivered murderous blows,” Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace said during the trial.
Creech did not have a weapon, which the defense said was proof he had no deadly intentions. Creech testified during the trial that Smith had thrown the first punch.
“I defended myself,” Creech said.
He testified that he left the scene and found Smith dead when he returned. He said he regretted not telling authorities, and he said a prayer over the body as he buried it.
“If I could change it, I would,” Creech said. “My heart was just racing through the roof. It’s weird until you go through it — it’s one of those times you’re in fog.”
Smith was soon reported missing, and nearly a year later, the Mercedes, with Smith’s blood on it, was found in a storage facility connected to Creech. Prosecutors took the jurors to see the car during the trial.
In October 2014, Smith’s remains were found in a shallow grave near Acton in the desert north of Los Angeles.
When Creech was finally indicted for the killing the following February, he was already serving an eight-year sentence for sale or transportation of drugs.
Several witnesses at the trial, including Cade, were given immunity from being accessories to the crime in exchange for their testimony.
Smith’s adult sons also took the stand, saying they had once gone to Creech to apologize for their father’s affair with his wife.
One of the sons testified that Creech told them they had saved their father’s life with their apology.
On Monday, Creech appeared subdued and showed no reaction when the verdict was read. Sentencing was set for Sept. 19. He could get 11 years in prison.
“It was a sad and tragic case,” Deputy Public Defender Irene Nunez said after the verdict.