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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina

Monday, August 26, 2019

Asheville Man Pleads Guilty To First Degree Murder And Aggravated Sexual Abuse Resulting In Death

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced today that Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 22, of Asheville, N.C., has pleaded guilty to one count of first degree murder and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse resulting in death. U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Carleton Metcalf accepted Pendergraft’s guilty plea in federal court in Asheville.

John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Neal D. Labrie, Chief Ranger of the Blue Ridge Parkway; and Robert Schurmeier, Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), join U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.

According to plea documents and today’s hearing, on July 24, 2018, Pendergraft, who worked at the Pisgah Inn, murdered his co-worker, Sara Ellis, during the perpetration of aggravated sexual abuse. The murder occurred on the Blue Ridge Parkway, within the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and within the Western District of North Carolina.

Pendergraft’s plea agreement, which the Court has accepted, provides that the defendant will receive a sentence of life in prison without any possibility of parole for his crimes.   

Pendergraft remains in federal custody.  A sentencing date has not been set. 


In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the National Park Service, the FBI, the SBI, the Transylvania County Sheriff's Office, the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, and the Cruso Fire Department for their respective work and assistance in this case. 

            Assistant U.S. Attorneys Don Gast and John Pritchard, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville, are in charge of the prosecution.


Violent Crime
Updated August 26, 2019