Crime & Courts

Palmer man sentenced to life in prison for 2016 double murder

A Palmer man was sentenced this week to spend life in prison for charges related to a double homicide that unfolded in Meadow Lakes during 2016.

John Pearl Smith II, 36, committed a series of robberies during 2015 and 2016 in Mat-Su before shooting and killing 30-year-old Crystal Denardi and 43-year-old Ben Gross, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors. Another person was shot and wounded during the same robbery.

Smith was convicted by a federal jury in August on 10 felony counts, including murder, robbery and drug and firearm-related charges. He plans to appeal the convictions, according to a sentencing memo filed by his attorney.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason sentenced Smith to serve two consecutive life sentences on the murder charges, according to court records.

Smith had targeted homes he believed belonged to drug dealers and aimed to rob them of cash, drugs and firearms, according to the sentencing memo filed by federal prosecutors. He committed the crimes after he was released on parole in 2015 after a roughly nine-year imprisonment on a series of felony convictions related to robberies, burglaries, theft and weapons misconduct.

Smith planned to rob Gross on June 5, 2016, and in the process shot and killed him and Denardi, the memo said. He shot another man several times and attempted to kill him, the memo said, then afterward Smith poured gasoline on the building where the killings occurred and set it ablaze.

Later that summer, Smith was arrested on federal charges of illegally possessing a firearm. He was indicted on additional charges, including murder, in March 2017.


Federal prosecutors say in the sentencing memo that Smith bragged about the robberies and murders to several other people who were also incarcerated. He also made and began to act on plans to escape from custody, the memo said. Smith had previously escaped from custody when he was detained as a juvenile and also as an adult in 2005 when he was granted a day-long release to attend his father’s funeral. He was arrested after a standoff with law enforcement a week later.

Federal prosecutors initially sought the death penalty for Smith, but withdrew that intent in 2021 when Attorney General Merrick Garland paused federal executions pending a review of the Department of Justice’s policies and procedures. The death penalty is not legal on a state level in Alaska, but federal prisoners are eligible for it.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at