The man charged with killing William “Andy” Banks and taking his silver Range Rover admits to shooting the 39-year-old Raleighite, the defendant’s attorney said during opening arguments Tuesday.
“This is not a who-done-it,” said Alexis Strombotne, who is representing Justin Fernando Merritt, 26, in a trial that started Tuesday morning. Merritt faces several charges, including murder, robbery, larceny of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Banks had met Merritt once in the parking lot of the former K&W Cafeteria in Cameron Village on a Tuesday in September 2020. The two men had planned to complete the SUV’s sale on the following Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, at the same place, according to statements in court.
But Banks never walked away from the deal. Instead his body was found five days later in rural Virginia with five gunshots wounds to his back, said Assistant District Attorney Patrick Latour during opening statements.
The shots were fired so close to Banks they singed the raincoat he was wearing, Latour said.
Merritt was initially charged with felonies connected to Banks’ disappearance, including robbery and larceny of motor vehicle, but later faced a murder charge.
The trial is expected to take from five to seven days.
If Merritt is convicted of murder, he will automatically be sentenced to life in prison.
Raleigh police were able to investigate the initial missing person case turned killing by talking to Banks’ friends and looking at his phone activity, Latour said.
At Merritt’s house, police found the gun used in the killing as well as the shell casings and other evidence that connected him to the killing.
Merritt’s attorney appeared to be setting the stage during her opening statements to argue this wasn’t a first-degree murder. She asked the jury to consider carefully each of the required elements of the charge, including premeditation.
Merritt reached out to Banks using his real name, email address and phone number, Strombotne said.
Merritt was previously convicted of a felony burglary in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years, warrants showed.
Banks enjoyed collecting and restoring cars, driving them for a while and then selling them, his friends said.
(This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the day. )