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Defendant pleads guilty to murder of Pisgah Inn coworker

A 22-year-old Asheville man has pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and first-degree murder in the death of his Pisgah Inn coworker last summer, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced.

Derek Shawn Pendergraft entered the plea 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 coworker, 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.
The plea agreement provides that Pendergraft will receive a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. He remains in federal custody. A sentencing date has not been set.
In making the announcement, 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.