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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 27, 2020

Federal Judge Sentences Asheville Man To Life In Prison For Co-Worker's Murder

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced today that Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 22, of Asheville, has been sentenced to life in prison, for the murder of his co-worker, Sara Ellis. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger presided over today’s sentencing hearing.

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 this announcement.

“When a life is cut short at the hands of another individual, no prison sentence is ever long enough to make things right for the victim’s loved ones,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “Today’s sentence will not bring back Sara to her family and friends who miss her and think about her every day, but it is my sincere hope that everyone impacted by this heinous crime can find solace in knowing that Sara’s killer will never walk free among us again.”

According to filed court documents and statements made in court, 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.

On August 26, 2019, Pendergraft pleaded guilty to first degree murder and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse resulting in death. He is currently in federal custody and will be transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.  All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.

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

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Don Gast and John Pritchard, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville, prosecuted the case.

Topic(s): 
Violent Crime
Updated February 27, 2020