DOJ Seal

Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Alaska

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Bryan Schroder
, United States Attorney
Contact: AUSA Assigned

United States Files Intent to Seek Death Penalty Against Palmer Man Charged with Federal Murder, Drug Trafficking and Firearm Crimes

Anchorage, Alaska – The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska today filed its notice of intent to seek the death penalty against John Pearl Smith II, 32, of Palmer, for the murders of Wasilla residents Ben Gross and Crystal Denardi on June 5, 2016.
The filing, a copy of which is attached, follows the decision and directive by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek the death penalty against Smith.
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 indictment alleges that in September 2015, May 11, 2016, and June 5, 2016, Smith attempted to rob people he believed were involved in trafficking drugs.  On each occasion, the indictment alleges that he brandished firearms during the robbery.  On the last occasion, it alleges he shot and killed Ben Gross and Crystal Denardi during the robbery, as well as shot a third individual, identified in the indictment as “R.B.” 
The Alaska State Troopers (AST), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF),  and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted the investigation leading to the charges in this case.  This case is being prosecuted by Criminal Chief Frank Russo and Assistant U.S. Attorney William Taylor.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Seattle Field Division