US Attorney seeks death penalty in Wasilla-area murders
The U.S. Attorney's Office filed notice Tuesday of its intentions to seek the death penalty against a Palmer man accused of crimes related to the murder of two Wasilla residents in 2016.
John Pearl Smith II faces the death penalty if he's convicted of numerous crimes, including drug trafficking and firearms crimes that resulted in the murders of Crystal Denardi and Ben Gross.
The investigation into their deaths began on June 5, 2016. Troopers said around 4 a.m. they received a 911 call about a possible shooting. When investigators arrived at a home on West Cole Road, they found the garage on fire and Denardi and Gross inside. Autopsy results showed Denardi, 30, and Gross, 43, died of gunshot wounds, not from the fire.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says Smith attempted to rob people who he thought were involved with drug trafficking on three occasions in September 2015 and May and June of 2016. In all cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office says Smith brandished a firearm.
In the last occasion, authorities say Smith shot a third individual, identified in the indictment as "R.B."
The notice of intent to seek the death penalty alleges that Smith's "use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in murder, and the use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime resulting in murder, in addition to numerous aggravating factors, justifies a sentence of death."
Smith was initially facing more than a dozen federal crimes -- including interfering with commerce by robbery, attempting to possess controlled substances with the intent to distribute them, use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence resulting in murder, use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime resulting in murder and other firearm-related offenses.
The state of Alaska doesn't have the death penalty. A spokesperson for the federal office says there haven't been any federal death sentences imposed in Alaska since statehood.
Should a defendant in Alaska be sentenced to death in a federal case, the execution would be carried out in Terre Haute, Indiana.
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