LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A convicted drug dealer charged with murdering a 20th Century Fox distribution executive whose body was found in the Antelope Valley in October, about 2 1/2 years after he went missing, pleaded not guilty today.
John Lenzie Creech, 42, is charged in connection with the May 2012 killing of Gavin Smith, who played basketball at UCLA in the 1970s. At this morning’s arraignment hearing, Creech was ordered to return to court on March 26, when a date will be set for a preliminary hearing designed to help a judge determine if there are grounds for trial.
Smith, 57, was last seen between 9 and 10 p.m. on May 1, 2012, leaving a female friend’s home off Kanan Road in eastern Ventura County in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 420 E. The vehicle was recovered on Feb. 21, 2013, at a storage facility in Simi Valley that authorities said was connected to Creech.
Smith’s remains were found in a shallow grave by a man walking with his dog on Oct. 26 in a rural area on the south side of Palmdale near the border with Acton, authorities said.
In a statement released today on behalf of Smith’s family, his wife, Lisa, said, “It has been over two and a half years since the disappearance of my husband, Gavin, and the pain my family has suffered in that time has been incomprehensible. His death has left a huge void in our lives that will never be filled. And have no doubt, the evidence will clearly show this was a cold-blooded, premeditated act of murder.”
She said the family is “so grateful for the detectives and forensic experts who have worked tirelessly to solve this case and have confidence that our legal system will bring justice for Gavin and all of the people who love him.”
Creech — who faces a 25-year-to-life term if convicted of first-degree murder — is serving an eight-year jail term for his no contest plea in September 2012 to one count of sale or transportation for sale of a controlled substance, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
After Smith’s remains were found in a shallow grave, sheriff’s Lt. David Dolson described Creech as “still a person of interest.”
In June 2012, detectives and a SWAT team raided a West Hills home owned by Creech.
The Los Angeles Times later reported it had obtained documents indicating sheriff’s deputies felt an unspecified felony related to Smith’s disappearance may have happened there.
Smith met Creech’s wife, Chandrika Creech, in some sort of rehab therapy, according to the newspaper, which reported that Creech has denied knowing Smith, despite his wife saying otherwise.
Dolson has said that after detectives found Smith’s car, they served several search warrants in the San Fernando Valley and began investigating the death as a homicide “based on the vehicle’s condition and information developed from persons cooperating in the investigation.”