A convicted drug dealer whose wife was linked to 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith has pleaded not guilty to murder in Smith's death.
John Creech, 42, is expected back in court March 26 to schedule his preliminary hearing. Outside the courtroom Thursday, Creech's attorney, Alex Kessel, told reporters that his client was defending himself in "mutual combat" with Smith and suggested Smith suffered a fatal injury.
Authorities had been investigating Creech since February 2013 when they received a tip that Smith's car was in a Simi Valley storage locker. The storage locker was linked to Creech.
Creech, who was arrested by Glendale police in a drug bust, pleaded no contest in 2012 to one count of selling and transporting cocaine.
Creech told a Los Angeles Times reporter at that time that he had never met Smith.
But deputies believed there was some relationship between Smith and Creech's wife, who met in a rehabilitation program.
On Thursday, Kessel acknowleged that Creech knew Smith was seeing his wife years ago and asked him to stop. Creech didn't know the two had kept in contact after that, Kessel said. Creech was separated from his wife at the time of Smith's death and was in his own relationship, Kessel said.
Smith's remains were found Oct. 26 in a shallow grave by hikers in the desert outside Palmdale. Smith, 57, had not been seen since May 1, 2012, and was legally declared dead May 1, 2014.
Kessel said his client was attacked by Smith on a residential street in Chatsworth.
"It was total self-defense. It was mutual combat," Kessel said. "Unfortunately, one person received an injury … there may be a number of contributors to his death."
Authorities said Smith was last seen leaving a friend's home in Ventura County. Family and friends searched for Smith and offered a $20,000 reward.
Smith's wife, Lisa, released a statement Thursday on behalf of their family and described her late husband's slaying as "cold blooded."
"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," the statement read. "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."
Creech faces up to 25 years to life in prison. He's being held on $1 million bail.
Times staff photographer Mark Boster contributed to this report.