By Associated Press - Monday, August 26, 2019

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - A former employee at a well-known North Carolina mountain inn has pleaded guilty to killing a co-worker who was an aspiring chef.

Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 22, entered the plea Monday in federal court to first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse resulting in death.

Pendergraft admitted to killing Sara Ellis, his co-worker at the Pisgah Inn along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in July 2018. An autopsy found that Ellis died of strangulation.

Prosecutors say in a news release that the plea deal includes a life sentence without parole, though a sentencing date hasn’t been set.

Pendergraft initially told authorities the two went for a hike and he lost track of Ellis after she turned back in the rain. Authorities found her body off an embankment near the parkway.

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