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Man sentenced for Blue Ridge Parkway murder

A 22-year-old Asheville man was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his co-worker on a Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trail, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced.

U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger handed down the sentence about six months after Derek Shawn Pendergraft pleaded guilty in the murder of Sara Ellis.

“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,” Murray said. “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 court documents and statements made in court, Pendergraft, who worked at the Pisgah Inn, murdered his co-worker, Sara Ellis, during the perpetration of aggravated sexual abuse on July 24, 2018. 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 pleaded guilty last August 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.