Blackjack Card Counter on Murder Rap Claims ‘Poker Face’ for Lack of Emotion

A blackjack card counter has told a court in Calgary, Canada that his years of practiced, poker-faced sangfroid at the gaming tables enabled him to describe the 2020 killing of his longtime gambling partner without emotion.

Vida Smith
Vida Smith
Chris Lee, left. is accused of killing his longtime gambling partner, Vida Smith, right. He claims it was an accident but can’t remember where he hid the body. (Image: CBC/

Chris Lee, 63, is on trial for the second-degree murder of Vida Smith, who was 69 at the time of her death. For 30 years, Lee and Smith were friends and partners who traveled to casinos as part of a clandestine card-counting operation.

The pair were banned from many casinos, but their partnership was largely successful. Over the years they reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings.

Testifying Monday, Lee admitted that he killed his former blackjack partner, but claimed it was an accident. He told a jury in the Court of King’s Bench in Calgary that he had met Smith in a Starbucks parking lot in the city on July 21, 2020. She had agreed to provide him with a phony passport in return for $10,000.

‘The Final Straw’

Lee hoped that the COVID-19 mask mandates in place at the time would allow him to enter casinos he had been banned from. But he needed fake ID.

When Smith got into his car and accepted his cash, she produced a fake birth certificate instead, according to court filings. Lee said this was useless because he needed photo ID, but Smith tried to take the money, regardless.

Lee claimed this was the third time in their relationship that Smith had tried to screw him out of cash, which proved to be “the final straw.”

As she attempted to leave the car with the money, Lee says he grabbed her by the neck and pulled her back into the car. He claims he then held her neck tightly for around 30 seconds, which proved to be long enough to kill her.

During cross-examination on Tuesday, Lee was asked by Crown prosecutor Shane Parker why he had been able to describe the killing of his longtime partner so dispassionately.

“You were very stoic as you were describing to Mr. Wilson how you killed your friend of 30 years,” Parker told Lee, as reported by CBC.

“I show very little emotion most of the time,” the defendant replied. He added that he had “grown accustomed to being more mellow” because of his life as a professional gambler.

“I try not to display emotion,” he explained.

Body Missing

Lee says he panicked and transferred the body to another vehicle before eventually disposing of it in the mountains. He claims he can’t remember the exact location.

“For a man who spent his life calculating odds … this seems to be risky behavior,” said Parker.

Prosecutors put it to Lee that Smith did not die in the parking lot, but was later shot dead by the defendant with a .45 that he was carrying at the time. This  would be grounds for first-degree murder, since shooting someone implies intent.

Parker argued Lee knows where the body is hidden, but does not want authorities to find it because it would corroborate their theory.

Lee’s fate is currently in the hands of the jury, which began deliberating their verdict on Thursday afternoon.

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