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Feds won’t seek death penalty in case against Alaska man

July 9, 2021 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Federal prosecutors will no longer seek the death penalty for an Alaska man accused of killing two people in Wasilla in 2016.

John Pearl Smith II, 35, is scheduled to go on trial in October on federal charges in the case, but prosecutors gave notice on June 17 that they would withdraw their intent to seek the death penalty, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Prosecutors in 2018 said they would seek the death penalty against Smith if he was convicted of federal drug trafficking and firearms crimes that resulted in the deaths two years earlier of Ben Gross and Crystal Denardi.

Prosecutors said Smith shot and killed Gross and Denardi in a robbery attempt. Their bodies were found in a burned home. Autopsy results showed they had been shot before the fire started.

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Smith has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers did not immediately respond to messages on Friday by The Associated Press seeking comment on the removal of the death penalty.

The U.S. attorney’s office for Alaska withdrew the intent to seek the death penalty under U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s direction, Lisa Houghton, a spokesperson for the Alaska U.S. attorney’s office, told the Daily News in an email.

“This decision does not change our intent to pursue justice for the victims and their family members,” she said. “Trial is scheduled to begin October 18, 2021. If convicted, Smith faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.”

Garland last week said federal executions would be halted pending a review of policies and procedures.