ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WSPA) — Federal authorities have charged an Asheville man with murder in the death of a woman whose body near the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 21, of Asheville, N.C., is now charged with First-Degree Murder and two counts of Aggravated Sexual Abuse Resulting in Death.
He was previously charged with Second-Degree Murder.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced the charge in a news release on Thursday.
The victim’s body was discovered Tuesday night on a path near the Pisgah Inn.
The FBI said the victim is believed to be Sara Ellis, 29, of Seminole, Fla. Ellis who worked at the Pisgah Inn.
Authorities say Pendergraft is also employed there.
According to a criminal complaint, Pendergraft reported the woman missing after the two decided to hike after getting off work around 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Investigators say Pendergraft told them it began raining during the hike and the victim decided to return to the housing area, while he kept hiking.
Pendergraft told investigators he later found the victim’s umbrella and hat on the ground as he returned from the hike and notified inn management.
Rangers and first responders searched the area and found the victim’s body lying off an embankment, near a trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The complaint alleges that Pendergraft confessed to killing the victim to the Pisgah Inn manager who notified authorities.
Investigators began to interview Pendergraft and told him that he wasn’t under arreset and that he was under no obligation to speak with them and could leave at any time. He said he understood and agreed to talk with them, according to the report.
The federal complaint says the woman was partially nude and her clothing was pulled back.
Investigators say there was bruising and discoloration to her neck and head.
Pendergraft told investigators he “blacked out” and “when I came to I felt like it had not been a single blink of my time. I blinked and I was looking into the face of Sarah with a purple face…”
Pendergraft said when he first realized she was dead, she was lying on her back and he grabbed her arm and pulled her to her side, according to the complaint.
Pendergraft is currently in federal custody.
He is scheduled to have a court hearing on the new charges on Friday, Dec. 7.
He faces up to life in prison if convicted.