By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A convicted drug dealer was found guilty on Monday of voluntary manslaughter in the death of a Hollywood studio executive who was missing for more than two years before his remains were found buried in the California desert.
John Lenzie Creech, 44, was convicted by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury after a two-week trial. The jurors had begun deliberating on Friday afternoon.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Creech attacked and beat Gavin Smith, 57, after finding his estranged wife in a car with the film distribution executive at 20th Century Fox.
A Los Angeles County public defender who represented Creech at trial, Irene Nunez, could not immediately be reached for comment following the verdict.
Local KNBC-TV reported that Nunez argued at trial that Smith had died during a violent, “tragic” fight between the two men and that there had been no intent on her client’s part to kill.
Smith, also known for playing on UCLA’s 1975 national championship basketball team under celebrated coach John Wooden, was reported missing on May 1, 2012, prompting police to issue a missing persons bulletin and launch an exhaustive search.
The film studio issued a statement expressing concern about his disappearance, while family members posted a $20,000 reward, saying the 6-foot-6-inch (1.98-metre) ex-athlete with “movie star” looks should be easy to spot.
His son Evan Smith, then a forward for the University of Southern California basketball team, tweeted messages such as “I will not stop until I find my father.”
Smith’s black Mercedes-Benz was found in February 2013 at a storage facility in the Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley.
In October 2014, hikers stumbled across a skull and other bones belonging to the missing studio executive in a shallow grave in the Angeles National Forest, 40 miles (64 km) east of Los Angeles.
Creech, who was serving an eight-year prison term for sale of a controlled substance when he was arrested in connection with Smith’s death, faces a maximum of 11 years behind bars for his conviction on the voluntary manslaughter charge.
He was ordered back to court on Sept. 19 for sentencing.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)