A criminal bill of indictment was returned yesterday by a federal grand jury sitting in Asheville, charging Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 20, of Asheville, N.C., with second degree murder for killing a co-worker, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Pendergraft was previously arrested on a federal criminal complaint in connection with the murder.
U.S. Attorney Murray is joined in making today’s announcement by John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Neal D. Labrie, Chief Ranger of the Blue Ridge Parkway; and Robert Schurmeier, Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).
According to allegations contained in the indictment and the filed criminal complaint, on the evening of July 24, 2018, Pendergraft, an employee of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway, reported that a co-worker, identified in court documents as “S.E.,” was missing. Court documents allege that when initially interviewed by investigators, Pendergraft stated that he and S.E. both got off work shortly after 4:00 p.m., and decided to go for a hike on an unnamed trail near the employee housing area of the Pisgah Inn. Pendergraft stated that shortly after starting their hike it began to rain, and S.E. decided to return to the housing area while he continued to hike. Court documents allege that Pendergraft stated that on his way back, upon reaching the point where he last saw S.E., Pendergraft saw S.E.’s umbrella and hat lying on the ground. Pendergraft informed the management staff at the Pisgah Inn that she was missing. Rangers and first responders searched the area and located S.E.’s body lying off an embankment, near a trail, within the boundary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Transylvania County, in the Western District of North Carolina.
According to allegations contained in the charging documents, on the evening of July 25, 2018, the manager of the Pisgah Inn contacted law enforcement and advised that Pendergraft was in her office and had made statements regarding the death of S.E. Law enforcement arrived at the Pisgah Inn, interviewed Pendergraft, and arrested him shortly thereafter in connection with S.E.’s murder.
Pendergraft is currently in custody. The second degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the National Park Service, the FBI, the SBI, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, and the Cruso Fire Department for their respective work and assistance in this case.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Don Gast and John Pritchard, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.