Plea hearing for man accused of killing NC inn worker rescheduled

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ASHEVILLE, NC (WSPA) – The plea hearing for an Asheville man accused of murdering a woman, whose body was found near the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway last year, has been rescheduled for next week.

According to court records, Derek Pendergraft’s plea hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, but was cancelled. He is now set to go before Magistrate Judge W. Carleton Metcalf on Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. in Asheville.

Pendergraft is accused of second-degree murder in the death of Sara Ellis, 29, of Seminole, Fla.

We reported earlier that Ellis’ body was found on a path in July 2018 near the inn, where she and Pendergraft were both employed.

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 said 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. 

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Ellis died from strangulation and the autopsy also noted that she had blunt force trauma to her face.

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