Fox Exec. Gavin Smith’s Death Was ‘Tragic Accident,’ Attorney for Accused Killer John Creech Says

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John Creech appears in court in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 2, 2015. (Credit: pool)

A convicted drug dealer currently serving jail time was appeared in court Monday on a murder charge in the killing for former 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith, whose May 2012 disappearance prompted a long-running investigation and pleas for help from his family.

John Creech, 42, briefly appeared at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles, where his arraignment was postponed to Feb. 26.

He was charged with murder Thursday, more than three months after Smith’s remains were found in a shallow grave in the Antelope Valley.

Outside the courthouse Monday, Creech’s attorney said there had been a fight, calling the death a “tragic accident.”

Posters of Gavin Smith were on display during a Sheriff's Department news conference in November 2014. (Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Posters of Gavin Smith were on display during a Sheriff’s Department news conference in November 2014. (Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A 57-year-old former UCLA basketball player and distribution executive at Fox, Smith was last seen leaving a friend’s house in Oak Park, in eastern Ventura County, on May 1, 2012.

His family offered a $20,000 reward in his disappearance and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department pleaded for help finding the missing West Hills man.

Creech in September 2012 pleaded no contest to the sale or transportation for sale of a controlled substance, and was sentenced to eight years in jail.

In February 2013, Smith’s Mercedes-Benz SUV was found in a Simi Valley storage unit tied to Creech, and authorities announced the investigation had become a homicide case.

Investigators at that time said Smith had a relationship with Creech’s wife, Chandrika Creech, but they would not describe the nature of that relationship. The pair met in a rehab facility.

John Creech appears in court in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 2, 2015. (Credit: pool)

John Creech appears in court in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 2, 2015. (Credit: pool)

Then, in late October, hikers found Smith’s body in a shallow grave in a remote area between Palmdale and Acton. Creech was still being called a person of interest in the case at the time.

Evidence indicated that Smith was killed in his car, investigators said when discussing the discovery of Smith’s remains. A security hold remained on the autopsy results for Smith, a county coroner official said Monday.

Outside the courthouse Monday, Creech’s attorney Alex Kessel described his client as “a suspect for about two years now.”

“It’s not a murder. It’s not a homicide, not at all,” Kessel said. “I hope what will come out is it was a tragic accident that took place.”

Creech did not know Smith, Kessel said.

“His wife knew the victim, and may have had some relationship years ago,” the attorney said.

Creech’s wife and Smith had “dated on a few occasions” after meeting in rehab, according to Kessel.

“My client had no relationship, no animosity, no hard feelings against the victim at all,” Kessel said. “There may have been a fight, but there was no criminal intent. There was no malice … no premeditation for any type of homicide to take place.”

Another individual was involved, the lawyer added, saying he could not go into detail until further reviewing the case.

Creech faces 25 years to life in state prison if convicted of murder, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Cameras were allowed at Monday’s hearing, marking the first time images of Creech were widely distributed.