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Press Release

Palmer Man Convicted on Federal Murder Charges and String of Armed Home Invasion Robberies

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Alaska
The defendant attempted to steal drugs from houses in 2015 and 2016; Two victims killed and a third shot during home invasion on June 5, 2016.

ANCHORAGE – A federal jury in Alaska convicted a Palmer man on 10 felony counts, including two counts of murder, as well as robbery, drug and firearm related charges following an 11-day trial.  

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, John Pearl Smith, II, 36, attempted to rob people he believed were involved in trafficking drugs 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 and cash, as well as a .22 caliber revolver.

On June 5, 2016, Smith traveled to a property on Cloudy Lake in Wasilla 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. Gross threw a beer bottle at Smith and in response Smith fired multiple shots at Gross, killing him.

Holding the other victims at gunpoint, Smith searched the garage for drugs or other valuables, but was unable to find any. 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 to a nearby home across Cloudy Lake in a kayak, where the homeowner called 911. At the crime scene, Smith poured gasoline around the bodies of the victims and set the garage on fire.

Smith was arrested on June 28, 2016. In August of that year, investigators were able to recover the revolver from a marshy area off Johnson Road in Wasilla where Smith had concealed it after the murders. Investigators also recovered a map to site of the weapon that Smith had drawn while in prison; an expert forensic document examiner was able to confirm that the writing 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. These offenses carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 34 years. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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.


Updated August 25, 2022

Violent Crime
Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses