Federal prosecutors announced Thursday they filed a superseding indictment adding two counts of aggravated sexual abuse resulting in death against Derek Shawn Pendergraft. The new indictment also upgrades a murder charge against him to first degree.
Prosecutors say the charges carry a maximum sentence of death.
The indictment says Sara Ellis was killed July 24 in the course of sexual assault by Pendergraft. A defense lawyer didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Pendergraft had initially told authorities the two went for a hike near the Pisgah Inn where both worked, and that he lost track of Ellis after she turned back during rain.
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