tv Dateline MSNBC August 7, 2021 2:00am-3:00am PDT
>> i that's what she emboied rk and i'm going to carry that with me. d rk and i'm going to carry that with me >> no, it can't be, it can't be. he was so big in my life, the thought that anything bad could have happened to him, it didn't make sense to me. >> glamorous, good looking, golden, the dashing hollywood movie executive. >> he was more like a movie star in real life. >> just so charismatic. >> perfect southern california family. >> he completely dropped off the face of the earth.
>> a baffling disappearance, where was he? >> dad is not just a missing person. he has three sons a wife. >> i got scared.hr >> clues a missing mercedes, a handprint in blood and secret affairs. >> multiple love affairs. s a >> more women and lovers involved in this thing. >> was this beauty hiding something deadly? >> i wanted to get way, i was scared. >> how would this hollywood story end? >> like who are these people? ♪♪ hello and welcome to "dateline." gavin smith was a larger than life kind of guy who lived life to the fullest. he was not the type to slip quietly into the night.
so when he suddenly vanished without a trace, gavin's sisters wondered why his wife lisa wasn't doing more to find him. overs years forced lisa to reveal and uncover painful things about their marriage.s keith morrison with "dark valley". >> there was a kind of peace here, in her own chosen exile, vast pacific for company. how else to live with what's impossible to understand or forget? what began that sunny afternoon far away in southern california, san fernando valley, early may, 2012. >> something was really wrong, but a lot were wrong than i could imagine. >> reporter: it was the boy who knew at first, knew something was wrong.
his dad was supposed to take him to school that morning. but after school -- >> i was to go to school and pick him up after basketball practice. t when i showed up, he said, daddy didn't pick me up this morning. i said, what? he said, daddy didn't show up this morning. >> reporter: busy family, the ad boy got to school some other way >> he said he called a friend to from around the corner. >> reporter: or sometimes things fall apart. >> the situation sounded too crazy, love affairs, drug too outlandish. >> reporter: once those stable loving pieces have blown apart,i how do they come together againg >> somebody is going to walk away from this who maybe you wish wasn't going to walk away? >> exactly. >> how do people sleep at night? how do they live with themselves?w >> reporter: but that afternoon, lisa smith knew instantly, something must be wrong. her husband gavin was a
dedicated father. >> nothing would keep him from picking up his kid, ever. >> reporter: because gavin was so good at these things, his sister, he was so impressive, so tall. t you both got the tall gene? >> we did. >> reporter: whole family? >> whom family. >> whole family. >> reporter: gavin was the tallest, 6'6". >> he walked in the room, you wanted to gravitate to him. he was like a magnet. >> reporter: he played at ucla 1975, he was a forward.ed tte it was the final championship team from wooden.he >> just to be on that team was pretty fantastic. it was a once in a lifetime. >> reporter: and then he drifted a bit, worked as a golf caddie and this being los angeles and he a good looking towering athlete, people noticed him. movie people. bhl
>> they gave him a couple of roles and he got the bug. he >> reporter: the acting bug. first as a body double back on the basketball court in the te movie "inside moves." then as a bartender in "cob." >> congrats, al. >> reporter: when he met lisa, he was acting, but also waiting tables. >> he twinkled, he was just charming.in i was thrilled that he asked me for my number. >> reporter: they married, had three sons together and with a growing family to support, gavin gave up acting and took a job on the business side of 20th century fox eventually as a film distribution executive. >> fox is a wonderful company to work for. he loved it, it was film. >> reporter: the first place lisa called when gavin failed to pick up his son. was he at work that day? >> they told me he never shown up to work. gavin in 18 years never shown up not shown up to work. >> reporter: now lisa very worried now went to the sheriffs
station to report gavin missing and waited and waited. days later, gavin's family went on nbc 4 in los angeles to plead for help. >> i'm not going as to stop until i find him. so please help me find him. >> you guys want to pick one of these streets. now i'm in panic mode. we got to do something. >> reporter: what did it feel like to be in that spot? >> oh, it was surreal. >> reporter: the smith family put together a $20,000 reward for any information leading to gavin's whereabouts. nothing turned up. i would think that every hour that went by, it would be more dire and darker for you, right? >> it's very dark. it's very, very dark. >> reporter: it wasn't just the family having dark thoughts. they don't normally call a couple seasoned homicide detectives to look into a missing person. ea >> they do when there is some suspicious circumstances. >> reporter: and in this case, they called in sheriffs detectives ty labay and his partner john o'brien. >> his phone was missing.
there was no use of it. we checked his bank accounts from the time he was missing. we checked his medical insurance to see if he check into a hospital. >> that never showed any activity. he was completely dropped off the face of the earth. >> reporter: but then, out of nowhere, a sighting. hundreds of miles north of los angeles, a businessman visiting the central coast says he saw gavin smith and a beautiful woman at a cash only taco restaurant in morro bay. >> i happened to click on the link saw the photo and oh, boy. >> reporter: the waitress corroborated the story. t >> he was sitting right here, she was sitting right there. >> reporter: his sister raced up the coast to the restaurant. >> i said, here's my brother's picture. did you see him?e >> >> reporter: and? >> no. that was truly heartbreaking to me. >> reporter: it was all a big mistake. but it wasn't the last of the sightings.n' people seem to see gavin smith
everywhere.m >> because he kind of stands out in the photo, big white smile, tan face, tall guy, pretty much every tall, tan, blond-haired man was getting spotted as being gavin smith. ll >> reporter: weeks, months passed.in no sign of gavin. there was no answers. lisa was forced to reveal something publicly.no something painful. and maybe crucial. coming up, what had happened to gavin smith? >> it didn't make sense to me. >> we said, i think this is a suicide. then we go, i think this is a murder. our gut instincts were going different ways. >> reporter: you wondered if she had something to do with this? >> it crossed our minds all the time.th somehow it kept playing back, why won't you search? >> when "dateline" continues.
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be. it can't be. i just kept hoping. i did everything i could. >> reporter: but even as she ran down leads, herself, it seem to tara that lisa, her sister-in-law, gavin's wife, wasn't searching. so he disappeared and you couldn't give up on the possibly he's out there somewhere and lisa could. and i wondered whether there were ever dark nights in your soul, i wonder if she had something to do with this. >> it crossed our minds all the time, i mean, it just did, did i think she could ever be the one responsible the physical, no, but somehow it kept playing back, why won't you search? why? the only way somebody doesn't look for you is if you already know definitively. >> reporter: yeah. >> they're no longer living.
>> reporter: and you must have had a reason for knowing that. >> that's what i assume. >> reporter: it turned out lisa did know something, just not what tara expected. there were secrets which lisa and gavin kept hidden. >> he adored me, our family was exactly what he wanted to have. it just got lost. >> reporter: lost. it all started in the early ''80s even before she met gavin when he was a stunt man on the tv series "remington steele," he played a shooting victim, falling from a second story window. the stunt went wrong and he broke his back. >> he would take pain pills for his back. so usually percocet, something like that for pain. when that didn't work anymore, he was prescribed oxycontin. and he was addicted to it. >> reporter: he went to a drug rehab center called the matrix institute, here in the san fernando valley.
>> he clearly stopped using. he was feeling healthier than he felt in years. >> reporter: but when detective learned about his addiction, they had a to consider a raft of new possibilities. >> he disappeared, maybe overdosed. we didn't have any of those answers. >> we would have moments in the car where we looked at each other and said, i think this is a suicide and then an hour later, we'd interview somebody and something would happen and we'd go i think this was a murder and our feelings and our gut instincts were going different ways very early on very fast. >> reporter: that's got to be pretty unusual. >> it was very confusing. >> reporter: confusing to lisa, too. because here was another secret. the smiths were under water on their mortgage on the verge of losing their home. >> we were in a horrible position financially. >> reporter: lisa discovered before he disappeared, gavin had been taking money from his
retirement account and recklessly blowing through his six figure salary and there were other signs of strain in the family. in april, 2012, a month before gavin disappeared, his son evan wrote this message on twitter. thoughts and prayers out to my amazing mom and brothers, please. my dad decided to leave the family last night. real family sticks together. sister tara spoke with gavin at the time. >> he was struggling with losing what he had come to know and love for so many years and that was his family unit. and he didn't want to hurt those boys and that's what he kept saying. i don't want to be without them. >> reporter: but as much as he loved his boys, detectives learned, gavin had been unfaithful to his wife, had been seeing a woman named melanie and now that gavin had disappeared
without a trace -- >> we went to talk to her to see if she had any information in. >> reporter: did she? >> no, their relationship had ended. she did not talk to him. she had no idea where he was at. >> reporter: but, though melanie was the reason gavin moved out of his house the month before he vanished, she was not his first affair. there had also been a woman named chandy. it was years in the fast, but phone records show he called her, may 1st, a day before he disappeared. cops tracked her down, too. what did she tell you? >> she acknowledged the prior affair and said she had not been in contact for some time and they had been talking via e-mail. >> reporter: that would explain the fact that he called her on the phone? >> yes. >> reporter: she says she hasn't heard from him since. last sighting a colleague saw him driving his black mercedes.
>> we felt the vehicle was still out there somewhere. >> reporter: so find the car and maybe find out what happened to gavin. and nine months after gavin vanished, they finally got the break they were looking for. >> i said, i'm here to talk to you about your daughter and he started crying and he said, she saw everything. >> coming up. >> she was very nervous and startled. >> a new witness and a game changer of a clue. >> i kissed my partner on the cheek, it was pretty exciting. it was a big piece of evidence. >> huge moment. >> you think you can't be shocked, but you can be. >> when "dateline" continues.
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>> reporter: like it or not, it's a fact. an element of human nature an element of human nature some people have affairs. some of them just flings. others a lot more. and as detective ty labay poked through gavin's life, one name kept popping up. chandy. her full name chandrika kreach, she had already told detectives they had had an affair years earlier and he called her before he vanished. but now nine months after he disappeared. detectives got a tip. her father knew more.
>> her dad started telling the tale something his daughter may have seen and he was distraught and wanted to talk about it. he said you know reina? he says, yeah, i know the name. >> reporter: she lived with chandy and she knew something, something important. >> and he goes, i think she knows where the car is. >> reporter: the elusive mercedes. detectives drove out to see reyna. >> we just waited until she showed up. we kind of surprised her. >> reporter: it's what you guys do, right? >> you know, sometimes it works better that way, yeah. she was nervous and startled. wasn't sure what to do. ultimately, she provided us the paperwork for the storage locker. >> reporter: reina's storeage locker, it was a big one, ten feet by 20. >> we rolled the door up. the only thing in it was a black mercedes benz with no license plate on it. >> wow. >> a huge moment. >> reporter: a black mercedes
van had to be gavin smith's. >> i kissed my partner on the cheek. that's a true story, it was big piece of evidence. when we were able to get closer and saw our entire crime scene in our opinion was in that car. >> reporter: crime scene, yes, suddenly all other theories seemed to fall away. >> the passenger's seat was completely covered in blood and at one point it was very eerie where you looked at the blood and you can see a hand mark of gavin smith as he died in that seat. >> reporter: soon the news reached the family. tara devastated. there is no going back from that? >> there is no going back. >> reporter: you accepted it? >> you know, you're forced. you know trauma happens to people all the time. you don't think it's going to happen to you. but it does. >> you know when you already expect the worst, you think that you can't be shocked, but you can be is all i can say about that.
>> reporter: but if gavin was dead and certainly it looked that way, where was his body? how did his car wind up in the storage locker, and above all, who would have wanted him dead? reina lynn certainly seemed like an unlikely suspect. she tells them she rented the storage unit for somebody else. meanwhile, they looked into the affair with gavin with chandy and discovered they met in rehab. less than two years before gavin disappeared, lisa found out about it. >> i was heart broken. >> reporter: so she took an extreme step to save her family. she and two of her sons then 14 and 20 went to the house to speak to them family to family. >> i was really upset when we were driving there, so i stayed in the car and let my sons go in the house.
>> reporter: but they didn't meet chandy in there. they met her husband, his name was john. john creech. not pleasant. >> when they came out, they were both crying. >> reporter: they told their mom creech threatened to kill gavin if he didn't stay away from chandy. though 17 months later he vanishes after calling chandy, lisa had a very bad feeling. >> everything changed right then for me. >> reporter: detectives were suspicious, too, remember, chandy told them she didn't see gavin that night. but there was evidence to the contrary. cell phone records showed gavin's phone and chandy's were in the same place that night. a little triangulation narrowed down just where in. >> we came down this street and this was the likely spot. >> reporter: a likely spot for a tryst, that is? parking lot would be empty at night. . >> yes, yes. >> so this is a pretty lonely
spot? >> it is. >> reporter: so it seemed on the night he disappeared he met chandrika creech for sex for comfort or just to talk, something. quite a lot to learn from those phone records. but there was more. a third phone. john creech's phone in the same spot on the same night and this was eerie. creech's phone seemed to be moving in sync with gavin's. >> john creech's phone and gavin smith's phone were running parallel. >> reporter: together, together? . >> together, sometimes hitting off the exact staim same towers or parallel towers. >> reporter: what was that like? >> it was an eye opening moment. >> reporter: but when they interviewed john creech. >> he denied ev knowing meeting him. he said he knew who he was. he knew they were having an affair in the past. despite their suspicions there was not much police could do. because -- >> one thing we didn't have was
gavin smith. >> reporter: that is, they had no body, no way to prove who killed gavin or that there was a murder at all. >> that is, until a dog named buddy went for a walk. >> a real life doggy detective who makes a deadly discovery on a deserted trail. coming up -- >> i go, buddy, stop, wow, that looks pretty strange. >> and a young woman suddenly finds herself in the middle of this mystery. >> i discovered he had scrapes on his hand and on his arms. >> when "dateline" continues. rinsing the dishes before they go in the dishwasher? well, cascade platinum has 50% more cleaning power, so you don't have to. its food-seeking enzymes break down food
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the ceo of spirit airlines says they'll take a few more days to find flights on schedule. 300,000 passengers were bumped due to weather delays, shortages and computer problems. now, back to "dateline." >> welcome back to "dateline." it had been over two years since gavin smith, a charismatic executive and family man had vanished. detectives had a major break in the case when they discovered gavin's missing mercedes and his bloody hand print on the passenger's seat. there was also a person of interest, the jealous husband of the woman gavin was having an affair with. but there was still no bodies, until an inquisitive dog named buddy bounded onto the scene. here's keith morrison with "dark valley." >> reporter: rocky ramos liked
to drive his truck up to the outskirts of the angeles national forest, a place where people tend to toss things like ol tvs, maybe some furniture. rocky liked to poke around up here. always with his dog buddy by his side. >> she'd be mad if i didn't take him. >> reporter: in october, 2014, they were just five minutes into their hike when something curious happened. >> we were walking up this little area right here and he runs to a bush and i go, buddy, stop. and he's just looking at the bush. he won't leave it or anything. so we go up there and we're looking and it's like, wow that looks pretty strange. >> reporter: buddy had made a grim discovery, a human skull. >> i was totally amazed. i was without words, you know, i didn't know what to think. >> reporter: when police arrived, they found a shallow grave nearby.
>> that's where we found him. >> reporter: him. the coroner soon confirmed it, after 2 1/2 years, here was the body of gavin smith. >> the clothing was still intact and he had been wrapped in his own blanket he had in the truck of his car. >> reporter: the coroner also found the cause of death and it was grim. blunt craniofacial trauma, that is, multiple blows to his face. he was beaten to death. >> it was repeated hitting in order to do that much damage, very violent. >> reporter: there were also fractures to the right forearm, possibly defensive wounds. gavin had tried to fight, but clearly, he was no match for his killer. whoever did this was strong, very strong. >> powerhouse gym was very gossipy, so if you told the wrong person something your
secret would be all over the gym. >> lauren just 18 years old back then asked us not to use her last name. not after she found herself in the middle of a homicide investigation. when police came across her doing under surveillance on john creech. lauren used to work at the pro shop of the power house gym in chatsworth, california. that's where she first met creech. >> he was beautiful. he was tall and he was muscular and a lot of women especially wanted to date him. a lot of men wanted to be him. >> reporter: lauren fell for him. he told her he was separated from his wife chandy, but that didn't stop chandy from calling lauren. >> she texted and called me and was very belligerent and rude. >> reporter: angry, perhaps that her husband, then 39 was dating a high school girl. in fact, sheer coincidence, lauren went to high school with gavin smith's son.
so she knew when he disappeared in may, 2012, but made no connection between that and something she noticed about her boyfriend, john creech. >> i discovered he had scrapes on his hands and on his arms. aything to do with the disappearance. >> reporter: but when detective o'brien heard about creech's scrapes he immediately thought about gavin smith's wounds. he needed to talk to him again. he found him in jail serving eight years on a cocaine charge, his second conviction for dealing drugs. not exactly an upstanding citizen. could they prove he murdered gavin smith. >> he went to him. didn't ask him questions, we just put a picture down in front of him with the shallow grave. >> reporter: how'd he react to that? >> very wide eyed? the first call to his attorney. >> reporter: hardly a surprise. >> no. >> reporter: other phone calls were surprising, like the record
of calls detectives found in creech's cell phone from the night gavin vanished. john creech was on the phone a lot. >> he was calling multiple people, very intensely. >> reporter: so like three or four or five calls to the same person over and of? >> exactly. >> reporter: some of the calls were to creech's buddies from the power house gym. >> we did a multi-location search warrant. we hit everybody we believed might have helped on that evening. we hit all those houses all at once. >> reporter: one by one those buddies turned. they told detectives how a frantic creech showed up that night and persuaded one friend to get rid of gavin's cell phone. another friend to hide gavin's car and body in his garage and yet another told detectives she saw chandy and john creech burning their own clothes in the fireplace after gavin was killed. >> this was a strange case. >> reporter: prosecutor bobby graves. >> you don't normally find a body two years later after somebody is killed.
you don't normally have key witnesses who don't come forward until years later. >> reporter: in january, 2015, nearly three years after gavin smith disappeared, creech was charged with first degree murder. he had pleaded not guilty. and chandy, well -- >> we didn't know if she set it up or she had something to do with it. >> coming up, an under cover sting and chandy is the target. >> and i was like, stop it. screaming my head off. >> then a stunning moment in the courtroom. >> i wanted to get away, i was scared. i was afraid of what i would see. >> when "dateline" continues. yo. but not if you protect him every month with heartgard plus, the #1 choice of dogs. digestive and neurological side effects have rarely been reported. ask your vet for heartgard plus. we don't use just any wipe, we use dawn disinfecting wipes. they're tough enough to cut through greasy messes,
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detective john o'brien and ty labay had a problem. an important witness who wouldn't talk. chandrika creech clammed up. but there's more than one way to get a story. they found an associate of creech's, someone who knew chandy and convinced him to wear a wire and meet with her. it worked. >> do you want to know the story? >> yeah. >> reporter: once chandy felt safe, she spilled it. all of it. how she and gavin met in secret at that secluded cul-de-sac. got close in gavin's car. >> and then all of a sudden the door opens and john just goes like --
and i was like, i pushed myself out this way, got out the driver's side. >> reporter: creech burst in like a machine, said chandy, started slugging, wouldn't quit. >> i was like, stop it, you're going to kill him. i was like screaming my head off. he comes out of the car and he goes, you're next and then i drove off. >> reporter: she was terrified, he said, afraid he'd kill her, too, or tell the cops she set the whole thing up. so, did she? again and again the detectives listened to the under cover tape. >> i believe 100% that she did not know that was going to happen and she did not set it up. >> reporter: but they wondered, did she help cover it up? it's a serious business covering for a crime that awful. but chandy had a card to play. she agreed to testify. >> members and alternate members of the jury -- >> reporter: and in june, 2017, john creech went on trial. on the face of it, it looked
like a solid case, the phone evidence, the cover up, the truly appalling crime scene in gavin's car. but did it add up to first degree murder? gavin smith had been dead five years. >> he was killed in his mercedes benz in an act of almost stunning brutality by the defendant john creech who is sitting here in the courtroom. this became gavin smith's tomb. >> reporter: what happened wasn't merely an outburst of rage, said the prosecutor, no, creech had been plotting for two years, ever since he found out about chandy and gavin. ever since that day in december, 2010, when at their mother's request, gavin's sons met with john creech at his house. >> we just wanted to make sure my dad was not in harm's way. >> were you sobbing and crying? >> yes. >> and what were you saying to the defendant?
>> i was just begging him not to harm my family. >> reporter: but, they testified, creech told them they did the right thing. by coming that day. >> he ended up saying we saved his life by coming that day. >> reporter: but there were rules. that's what chandrika now divorced from john creech said when she finally took the witness stand. >> as long as their father stayed away from me and had no communication whatsoever, their father would be fine. >> did he say what would happen if he didn't? >> that he would kill gavin smith. >> the affair ended, but chandy said the threat remained. >> he's not wanting to see them ever. >> reporter: still attraction is a powerful thing, isn't it? early in 2012, john and chandy were separated but still living together and gavin and lisa were separated, too. and that old magnetic force. gavin met chandy on that secluded road. >> did the two of you become romantic?
>> yes. >> did that include kissing? >> yes. >> and while you were kissing gavin, did something happen that caught your attention? >> yeah. >> what happened? >> just something popped up, like appeared. >> was that something the defendant john creech? >> yes. yes. >> reporter: gavin didn't have a chance, she said. >> he repeatedly punched him in the face. >> reporter: so then she ran back to her car terrified. >> i wanted to get away. i was scared. >> reporter: but before she drove away, she looked back. >> john had gavin pinned down. >> reporter: later, she said, creech wanted her to drive him back to the crime scene, to help take gavin to the hospital. a block-and-a-half away, she refused to go closer and dropped creech off. >> why didn't you take him all the way back? >> i was afraid of what i was
going to see. . >> gavin was dead by then and the prosecutor said, creech wasn't going to the hospital. creech was setting up to recruit help for his cover-up. >> first he called was jorge. >> reporter: first of a series of friends who told an incredible tale. did you ask any of these people what were you thinking? >> they all ultimately said they were trying to help johnny. >> because he's such a nice man? >> because he was a nice guy. >> reporter: nice, when he showed up at jorge's, he was driving the black mercedes and jorge saw something in the passenger's seat. >> he had like a body, he was stiff, like a long stick. >> reporter: he said it was wrapped up? >> wrapped up in a blanket. >> reporter: eventually jorge got rid of gavin's cell phone. but that very night said the prosecutor, creech called a friend from the power house gym. stan.
>> he asked if he can come over and put the car in my garage. >> is the body in the car at that point? >> yes. >> he allows it to be at his house for five-to-six days. >> reporter: really? >> yes. >> reporter: that's when creech turned to reina lynn, the nurse that lived with him. and creech got her to rent a van. >> then he uses a van to drive up to the angeles national forest and he finds a secluded area to bury gavin smith's body. >> reporter: where buddy the dog later found out. but the mercedes benz was still in the garage. >> did that upset you? >> very much so. >> reporter: so two weeks later two men arrived with a trailer. >> did you watch them take the mercedes out of your garage? >> yes, i did. >> reporter: that, said prosecutor, is when they moved it into reyna's storage locker,
where months later the detective noticed one detail that saved the cover up. >> i was looking at the license plate, i see it's not there. should be a california license plate, that kind of thing, it's gone. i also see there is one screw missing and one screw screwed back in halfway and that screw came back positive dna to john creech. >> reporter: bingo, the unassailable link to pull together all that evidence. phone records, chandy's testimony, the friends, the dna and it all condemned john creech. but a surprise was coming. for everyone. >> raise your right hand. coming up. >> i was scared for my life. >> reporter: a dramatic tale from the stand. >> he punched me, pulled me in by my sweater. put his hand up on my throat, choking me on my throat. >> who attacked who? who would the jury believe ? >> my skin was just crawling. >> when "dateline" continues.
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plotting the rage-fueled killing for years to seek revenge on gavin smith for having an affair with his wife. but the defense was about to present a very different story. here's keith morrison with the conclusion of "dark valley." >> how to defend a man like john creech? well, said defense attorney irene nunez, it was all very simple. creech never intended to kill gavin smith. this was a case of self-defense. >> he had to defend himself against this intruder, an intruder into his marriage. >> and, she said, only one person could tell that story. >> who is the first witness you are going to call on behalf of the defendant? >> my client, john creech. >> his attorney began asking him about that meeting with gavin's son. >> at any point did you tell them you were going to kill their father? >> no, that's absurd. >> two years later when it happened, he and chandy were separated. though they lived in the same house. he still worried about her,
thought she might be drink and driving. so he installed an app on his phone that allowed him to track her phone and followed her because he was worried, then he saw her car parked near gavins and thought it best to talk to them. he didn't sneak up on them, he said. >> so i knock on the hood of the car. >> was chandy sitting on the lap of this guy? >> sitting on his lap, they just kept talking. i walked over to the passenger's side door, knocked on the window. >> what did they do? >> chandy opened the door. >> what did she say to you? >> what the [ bleep ] are you doing here? >> he started to argue. then gavin leans in. >> i'm leaning down to tell him to mind his own business. that's when he leaned up and punched me, pulled me in by my sweater, put his hand on my throat. choking me by the throat. >> it was gavin who threw the first punch, he said, of course he fought back.
>> do you recall how many times you hit him? >> four or five. >> when you were doing that? >> i'm thinking how did i get in this situation? i was scared for my life. >> then gavin got out of the mercedes, said creech, there was something in his happened. >> there was a 10 to 12 inch stainless steel thing, i thought it was a knife. we went at it. exchanging punches. >> at some point, did you get that weapon? >> i kept punching him. >> what did you do with it? >> i threw it over the back wall of my property. >> such a weapon was never recovered by the way. he insisted it was one and gavin provoked the fight. >> i was defending my life. i didn't go there to promote a fight. i was protecting mine. >> i think he lied for everything. >> on cross examination, the prosecutor went for that so-called multipurpose tool. >> so tell us why in the world would you get rid of this weapon that gavin smith had used to attack you with? why would you get rid of that? >> i didn't get rid of it. i threw it mind my house where i
knew it would be all right. >> why would do you that? why wouldn't you leave it where it was. >> i can play armchair quarterback all day about things, but at the time, it seemed like the right decision. >> he admitted he made wrong decisions, like asking friends to help dispose of gavin's phone, and car, and body. >> i take full accountably for everything after the fact. if i could change it, i would. >> sir, you never took accountability because you never came forward to the police, did you? >> no, not on advice of counsel, i take accountability for that. >> lisa smith was in the courtroom to hear creech's testimony. >> my skin was just crawling. it was really hard, really hard. he was a cruel man. >> jury deliberations stretched across two days, then the
verdict. >> we the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant john creech not guilty of the crime of first-degree murder of gave insmith. >> not guilty of first-degree murder. but the jury wasn't done. >> guilty of the crime of voluntary manslaughter. >> a verdict, guilty of voluntary manslaughter, in other words, they believe john creech killed gavin smith in a moment of blind passion. >> i was devastated by the verdict. i am still devastated by the verdict. because he did absolutely plan on murdering my husband and thought about it for years and did it. >> what about creech's friends, jorge and stan, who helped creech cover up the killing? >> they both had significant criminal liability. >> so why weren't they charged? >> because we needed them to tell the story about how this man was killed and what happened to him. >> so they both got immunity. same thing with chandrika, who helped burn bloody clothing and never called the police. >> it seems to me that everybody got deals and everybody got off
and that gavin was a victim long after he was murdered. and so are we. >> john creech was sentenced to the maximum for manslaughter, 11 years in prison. >> the d.a. in detroit, michigan, indicted mr. creech on federal drug trafficking charges. if convicted his exposure was anywhere 5 to 40 years in prison. >> in june 2019, john creech was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, ten years, ten months, to be served concurrently with time for manslaughter in california state prison. lisa smith has done her best to restart her life, she and the boys in hawaii now. far from the wreckage of that california life that never was quite as perfect as it looked. >> it was painful to remain
there, so it's starting fresh. it feels like sanctuary. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm natalie morales. thanks for watching. ♪♪ first up on msnbc, as the nation battles to contain the delta variant, florida sets a new record in covid cases and hospitalizations this week, and it's all ahead of a monster truck event that's expected to draw huge crowds, but despite the crisis in florida, the governor is going after president biden and railing against possible restrictions. >> i'm the governor who protects parents in their