Palmer man found guilty on murder, robbery, firearm charges related partly to 2016 double homicide

John Pearl Smith II killed two Wasilla residents, then burned their home in June 2016
John Pearl Smith II killed two Wasilla residents, then burned their home in June 2016
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 12:34 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A Palmer man who the U.S. Attorney’s Office says killed two people and robbed multiple homes in the Wasilla area in 2015 and 2016 was convicted Thursday on 10 felony charges.

John Pearl Smith II, 36, could potentially get life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 34 years, on 10 counts that include:

  • Two counts of using a firearm to commit murder in relation to drug trafficking
  • Two counts of interference with commerce by robbery
  • One count of attempted interference with commerce by robbery
  • Three counts of attempted possession of controlled substance with intent to distribute
  • Two counts of brandishing a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime

Smith had previously been facing the possibility of the death penalty, which Alaska does not have. A Department of Law spokesperson confirmed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska withdrew its notice of intent to seek the death penalty in 2021 as directed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Smith is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 12, 2022.

According to a press release issued by the Alaska District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Smith broke in and robbed several residences in Wasilla in the months spanning September 2015 to June 2016, starting with a house off Knik-Goose Bay Road that he believed was owned by drug traffickers who were growing marijuana. Authorities say he kicked in the door and fired a warning shot before stealing drugs, firearms, and jewelry.

The release states that in May 2016, Smith broke in and robbed another Wasilla home, bounding the residents of the house with duct tape before stealing heroin, cash, and a .22 caliber revolver.

On June 5, 2016, Smith found a home on Cloudy Way in Wasilla, a property where Ben Gross and Crystal Denardi lived in a detached garage with a second man. Smith broke in and fired a warning shot, prompting Gross to throw a glass bottle at Smith.

The release says that Smith then shot Gross multiple times, killing him. He then held Denardi and the other man at gunpoint while he searched the garage for drugs and other valuables. After not finding anything, he shot Denardi in the back of the head, killing her. The second man escaped but was injured by shots from Smith to his head and chest. The man paddled across Cloudy Lake in a kayak, where another homeowner took him in and called the police.

After the second man escaped, Smith burned the garage down by pouring gasoline around the garage, including the bodies of Gross and Denardi.

Authorities were able to find and arrest Smith on June 28, 2016. Later that year, investigators found the gun in a marshy area off Johnson Road in Wasilla, which they identified as the one Smith had stolen by crosschecking with a hand-drawn map produced by Smith in prison.