Convicted killer working with police to locate body, judge told at sentencing hearing

Vida Smith and Chris Lee were involved in the gambling world together. Lee was convicted Friday of manslaughter in Smith's death. (Calgary Police Service - image credit)
Vida Smith and Chris Lee were involved in the gambling world together. Lee was convicted Friday of manslaughter in Smith's death. (Calgary Police Service - image credit)

One day after Chris Lee took a homicide detective to the mountains to look for the body of his victim, lawyers made arguments as to how long the killer should spend in prison.

On Friday, the 63-year-old, also known as Kevin Barton, was convicted of manslaughter in the death of his friend and blackjack partner of 30 years, Vida Smith, 69. The verdict followed a two-week jury trial in Calgary.

Lee's sentencing hearing on Wednesday largely focused on the fact that Smith's body was never found.

"Where is she?" asked prosecutor Shane Parker.

Hiding body 'should not be rewarded'

Parker argued hiding Smith's body was the most aggravating factor of his crime.

"His success of concealing the when and how should not be rewarded," said Parker.

The prosecution asked the judge to impose an 11-year sentence — seven years for manslaughter plus four years for firearms offences.

Defence lawyer Cory Wilson argued a 5½-year sentence is appropriate — four for manslaughter and 18 months for the weapons charges.

Court of King's Bench Justice Rosemary Nation will hand down the sentence on Friday.

Search for body to resume after storm

Nation was told that Lee took homicide Det. Scott Gutterson on Tuesday to the area where he believes he left Smith's body.

"Search efforts will recommence when the environment co-operates," said Parker, alluding to the snowstorm.

Smith's children also spoke of the torment they've suffered not knowing where their mother's body was taken.

"You threw her body away like it was nothing, and I am haunted by that very thought," said Smith's daughter, Neda Power, while reading her victim impact statement.

"You denied her dignity, a proper burial and a place where our family can pay their proper respects."

International blackjack card counters

Smith's son, Sina Oroomchi, described his mother as "a beautiful woman full of energy and light."

Oroomchi wrote that he struggles most with the decisions Lee made after the killing.

"I don't blame Kevin Barton for the end of my mother's life," said Oroomchi.

"It was his actions and decisions that followed her death that hurt me and haunt me … "he forced me to accept his version of what happened."

Court exhibit
Court exhibit

Smith and Lee had known each other for 30 years. Although they once dated, the pair were friends who travelled to casinos all over the world.

Both were so skilled at blackjack card counting, it was the their sole source of income — sometimes each earning $100,000 or more a year.

Lee testified killing was accidental

On July 21, 2020, the two met with a plan for Smith to sell Lee her ex-husband's passport so he could get into casinos he'd been kicked out of.

The two sat in his car to execute the deal, but Lee testified Smith handed him a birth certificate instead of the more valuable passport. He said she then tried to get out of the vehicle with his $10,000.

Lee testified he "accidentally" choked Smith as he tried to get her back into the car.

Days after he killed Smith, Lee drove west, leaving her tarped body somewhere near Banff or Canmore, he testified.

After hearing two weeks of evidence and deliberating for two days, jurors delivered a verdict Friday night.

Lee admitted to killing Smith but has maintained since Day 1 of trial that he was guilty of manslaughter, not murder.

'Did she beg for her life?'

When given the chance to address the court, Lee offered an apology.

"I'm terribly, terribly sorry," he said. "If I could take it back, I would take it back 100 times."

But Smith's family has been left with more questions than answers.

"Did she know what was about to happen," Oroomchi wondered aloud.

"Did she beg for her life? Did she scream out my name or my sister's name at the very end?

"Only one person knows for sure: the only witness to her death, Kevin Barton."