Calgary

Blackjack pro on trial for murder would 'do anything' for his own advantage, Crown suggests

A third fight over money was a "final straw" for the man who has admitted to killing his friend and blackjack partner of 30 years, jurors heard Tuesday.

Vida Smith was last seen on July 21, 2020, but her body has never been found

Vida Smith, 69, was killed in July 2020. Her friend of 30 years is on trial for murder. (Calgary Police Service)

A third fight over money was a "final straw" for the man who has admitted to killing his friend and blackjack partner of 30 years, jurors heard Tuesday.

Chris Lee, the Calgary man on trial for second-degree murder in Vida Smith's death, was cross-examined by prosecutor Shane Parker after taking the stand in his own defence on Monday.

Lee admitted to killing Smith on July 21, 2020, but his lawyer has argued Lee is guilty only of manslaughter, not murder. 

In his testimony, Lee told jurors Smith offered to sell him her ex-husband's passport so he could use it to get into casinos where he'd previously been banned. 

The pair were successful card counters who, during their heyday, were winning tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars playing blackjack.

'Turned out to be a final straw'

But over the decades, their relationship had ups and downs.

On July 21, 2020, the two met at a Starbucks in northeast Calgary for a coffee and then got into Lee's vehicle to do the exchange. But Lee says Smith gave him a birth certificate instead of a passport, according to the accused's testimony.

Then, Lee said, Smith tried to get out of the car with his money in her purse. 

Lee agreed when Parker suggested the incident in the car was the third time Smith had tried to "screw" him out of money. 

"What was your reaction to Vida Smith, for the third and final time, trying to screw you out of money," Parker asked. "A final straw?"

"It turned out to be a final straw," Lee answered.

'Risky behaviour'

Lee said he pulled Smith back into the car and had his arm around her neck 

Lee was about 10 years younger than Smith and at the time weighed over 100 pounds more than her. 

"You put a smaller, older woman in a chokehold until she died?" asked Parker.

"Yes," said Lee.

After killing Smith, Lee said he wrapped her body in a tarp and moved it into the back of his Escalade from his girlfriend's Nissan Altima.

He said he drove to Edmonton and back with Smith's body in the back, stopping at places like Safeway and Best Buy.

"For a man who spent his life calculating odds … this seems to be risky behaviour," said Parker. 

Chris Lee is seen on security camera footage, walking through a parking lot on the day he met Vida Smith for coffee. Lee has admitted to killing Smith but says he is not guilty of murder. (Court exhibit)

After the Edmonton trip, Lee testified he drove to the mountains sometime between July 24 and 26, and left the body near a rest stop around Banff or Canmore.

When asked to pinpoint the location, Lee couldn't.

"I'm going to suggest to you you'd never forget the location," said Parker.

'Anything for your own advantage'

By July 29, Lee was being watched by the Calgary police service's surveillance unit, which recorded all of his movements.

After he learned detectives were looking to speak with him, Lee cleaned the back of his Escalade and took it to a car wash for a vacuum. 

There, he was spotted tossing Smith's car keys into some bushes.

He also discarded a homemade gun silencer, which later tested positive for gunshot residue. Lee testified he did not shoot Smith and said the silencer was used months earlier at a shooting range.

"You say you used the homemade silencer months ago but chose to throw it out after you learned police were looking for you?" questioned Parker.

Lee also admitted to lying to police during his interviews following his arrest.

Parker continued.

"How can this jury accept anything you say, with such a consistent desire to do anything for your own advantage?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter.

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