Sessions Gives Death Penalty Directive for Gross/Denaldi Murder Suspect John Pearl Smith

Ben Gross. Courtesy picture-Gavin Gross
Ben Gross. Courtesy picture-Gavin Gross

Following the decision and directive by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska has filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against 32-year-old John Pearl Smith II of Palmer for the murders of Ben Gross and Crystal Denardi.

According to the press release issued by the DoJ office in Anchorage, “The notice of intent alleges that if Smith is convicted, his 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.”

The path leading to this decision by the Justice Department had its start in late 2015 and into 2016 when Smith went on an armed robbery spree targeting people he believed were involved in drug trafficking. 

His spree began in September 2015 and carried on to robberies in May and ended in on June 5th when he gunned down Ben Gross and Crystal Denardi at 7350 West Coal Road near Wasilla. During that incident, he also shot a third person. That person survived and proved to be the person that led to Smith’s undoing.[xyz-ihs snippet=”Adversal-468×60″]

When authorities arrived at the crime scene after being called by Smith’s third shooting victim, they found the garage on the property ablaze. When the fire was extinguished investigators discovered Gross and Denaldi’s remains in the structure.

Crystal Denardi. Image-FB Profiles
Crystal Denardi. Image-FB Profiles

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.

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The federal Grand Jury that indicted Smith on the murders cited special circumstances in the case, stating, 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,” making him eligible for the Federal death penalty if convicted.

The State of Alaska has no death penalty provisions but criminals convicted of capital crimes on the federal level can face the death penalty.

Read: Dkt 168 Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty(PDF)