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A Palmer man, indicted on Thursday by a Federal Grand Jury faces life in prison or the Federal death penalty if convicted for the murders of Wasilla residents Ben Gross and Crystal Denardi in early June of last year, acting U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced today.
According to the indictment handed down, 30-year-old John Pearl Smith II went on an armed robbery spree, robbing people he believed were involved in drug trafficking in September 2015, May 11th, and June 5th, 2016.
It was on that June 5th date that Smith shot and killed Gross and Denardi, and wounded a third person, as he was carrying out his scheme. It was that third person, identified only by the initials R.B., that called in the shootings to troopers.When troopers arrived at 7350 West Coal Road near Wasilla, they discovered that the detached garage on the property ablaze. After extinguishing the blaze, the remains of Gross and Denardi were found inside the structure. The autopsy of the remains showed the duo had died from gunshot wounds.
Investigators soon developed Smith as a suspect in the killings and he was indicted and arrested on federal charges of being a “felon in possession of firearms.” With Smith in jail on these unrelated charges, AST’s Alaska Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the DEA were able to complete their investigations into the murders, as well as uncover previous armed robberies committed by Smith.
The Federal Grand Jury that indicted Smith on the murders of Gross and Denardi, said that “special findings” that Smith had “committed the murders after substantial planning and premeditation, and after having been previously convicted of a gunpoint robbery in Alaska in 2006,” made him eligible for the Federal death penalty if convicted. That death penalty determination will ultimately be made by the Attorney General of the United States if and/or after Smith’s conviction.
Smith’s victims, 43-year-old Ben Gross, was a commercial fisherman who had moved up from Petersburg, where he was the skipper of the F/V Martina. 30-year-old Crystal Denardi, had studied forensic science at UAA after finishing high school at Colony High. She had also done modeling work.