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The defendant also sentenced for two other home invasion robberies.
ANCHORAGE – A federal district court judge in Alaska sentenced a Palmer man to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. In August 2022, a federal jury convicted John Smith of 10 felony charges including two counts of murder as well as robbery, drug, and firearm related charges following an eleven-day trial. The charges relate to a series of armed robberies in 2015 and 2016 that culminated in Smith murdering two people, attempting to kill a third, and burning the crime scene.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, John Pearl Smith, II, 36, developed a plan to rob people he believed were involved in trafficking drugs and carried out these crimes in September 2015, May 2016 and June 2016. He carried and brandished firearms during each of the three robberies.
In 2015, Smith identified a house off Knik Goose Bay Road in Wasilla as the location of a marijuana growing operation. Smith arrived at the house with a rifle, kicked in the door, fired a shot to frighten the resident, and stole drugs, firearms and jewelry.
In May 2016, Smith identified another house in Wasilla as the residence of a drug dealer. Smith forced his way in with a rifle, restrained the occupants with duct tape, and stole valuables including heroin, cash, and a .22 caliber revolver.
In June 2016, Smith traveled to a property on Cloudy Lake in Wasilla that was owned by Ben Gross, who was in a detached garage with Crystal Denardi and a second man. Smith kicked open the door and fired warning shots into the ceiling. When Gross threw a beer bottle at Smith, he shot Gross four times, killing him.
Holding the other victims at gunpoint, Smith searched the garage for drugs or other valuables. Smith then murdered Denardi by shooting her in the back of the head. The third victim was shot in the chest and in the head while trying to escape but managed to paddle a kayak to a nearby home across Cloudy Lake. Smith poured gasoline around the bodies of the victims and set the garage on fire.
Smith was arrested on June 28, 2016. In August, investigators were able to recover the murder weapon from a marshy area off Johnson Road in Wasilla where Smith buried it after the killings.
Investigators also recovered a map to the location of the weapon that Smith had drawn while in prison. A forensic document examiner confirmed that the handwriting on the map was Smith’s.
Smith was convicted of two counts of using a firearm to commit murder in relation to drug trafficking, two counts of interference with commerce by robbery, one count of attempted interference with commerce by robbery, three counts of attempted possession of controlled substance with intent to distribute, and two counts of brandishing a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime.
“John Pearl Smith’s senseless and selfish choices caused untold harm to his victims and resulted in the tragic loss of two innocent lives.” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska. “This sentence ensures that Smith will never have the opportunity to harm another innocent person again.”
“This comprehensive investigation and the resulting two consecutive life sentences for Mr. Smith affirm the DEA’s commitment to hold those who traffic illegal narcotics — and use violence to further their illicit schemes—accountable for their actions,” said Jacob D. Galvan, Acting Special Agent in Charge, DEA Seattle Field Division. “The DEA will work relentlessly with all of our partners to protect our communities against the likes of Mr. Smith.”
“Mr. Smith’s premeditated, compounding crimes were heinous in nature,” said ATF Seattle Field Division Special Agent in Charge Jonathan T. McPherson. “While this sentence will not bring the victims back to their families it is warranted for his vicious actions and will remove a clear danger from the community.”
U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker of the District of Alaska made the announcement.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the case, with extensive support from the Alaska State Troopers.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen Vandergaw, James Klugman, and Chris Schroeder prosecuted the case.