Convicted Drug Dealer Pleads Not Guilty To Killing FOX Studio Executive

LOS ANGELES (CNS/FOX 11) - A convicted drug dealer pleaded not guilty Thursday to 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.

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John Lenzie Creech, 42, is charged in the May 2012 killing of Gavin Smith, who played basketball at UCLA in the 1970s.

Creech remains jailed while awaiting his next court appearance March 26, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand 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 criminal complaint puts the date of his death as 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 last Oct. 26 in a rural area on the south side of Palmdale near the border with Acton.

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 25 year to life behind bars if convicted of first-degree murder -- is 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.

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.

Sheriff's Lt. David 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.''

Creech was charged Jan. 29 with Smith's killing.

His attorney, Alex Kessel, said earlier this month, "There may have been a fight, but I can tell you there was no criminal intent ... There was no malice. There was no intent, no premeditation for any type of homicide to take place.''

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