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Opening statements begin in studio executive murder trial


Angered over his wife’s repeated dalliances with a 20th Century Fox distribution executive, a spurned husband tracked down the amorous couple during a late-night rendezvous and beat the man to death in his Mercedes-Benz in 2012, nearly two years after threatening the man’s children he was going to kill their father, a prosecutor told jurors yesterday.

“That threat that he made to the two sons was … a downpayment to murder,” Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace said in his opening statement in the trial of John Creech, who is accused of killing 57-year-old Gavin Smith, who was missing for 2 1/2 years before his body was found in the Antelope Valley in 2014.

“… This particular defendant had murder on the brain. He wanted to kill Gavin Smith,” Grace said.    Creech, a 44-year-old convicted drug dealer, used a GPS phone app to track down his wife in the early morning hours of May 2, 2012, surprising her and Smith during a romantic interlude not far from the Creech home, the prosecutor told jurors. Creech then began beating Smith, a former UCLA basketball player, and continued pounding him even after Smith’s body went limp and Creech’s wife screamed at him to stop, Grace said.

The prosecutor told jurors Smith was killed inside his car “in an act of almost stunning brutality.” He showed jurors a picture of Smith’s damaged skull and said, “This particular defendant literally exploded Gavin Smith’s face.”

Grace outlined for jurors the on-again, off-again romance between Smith and Creech’s wife, Chandrika Cade, with the two meeting initially at a rehabilitation facility for prescription drug abuse. He said Smith became addicted after years of medication for a back injury suffered when he worked as a movie stuntman earlier in life.

Their affair broke off in 2008 when Smith was confronted by his own wife. But Smith and Cade began exchanging romantic messages again in 2010, Grace said. When Smith’s wife found out, she drove her two sons to Creech’s house, where the sons had an angry conversation with Creech, who initially indicated he was going to kill Smith but later backed off, telling the sons, “You saved your father’s life by coming here today,” according to the prosecutor.

Two years later, however, when the romance rekindled again, Creech made good on his threat, Grace said.

Smith was last seen between 9 and 10 p.m. May 1, 2012, leaving a female friend’s home off Kanan Road in eastern Ventura County in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 420 E. Prosecutors allege he was killed on May 2, 2012.

His car 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 Oct. 26, 2014, in a rural area on the south side of Palmdale near the border with Acton.

According to grand jury testimony, Creech hid Smith’s car and body in a friend’s garage near Porter Ranch after the killing, returning later to retrieve the body. Creech came back about a week later and towed the car away, according to testimony.

Creech is already serving an eight-year term for his no contest plea in September 2012 to one count of sale or transportation for sale of a controlled substance.

The murder charge against Creech includes the special circumstance allegation of lying in wait, but prosecutors opted against seeking the death penalty.