RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Both sides have rested in the trial of Justin Merritt — the man charged in the shooting death of Andy Banks.
Over the course of three days, prosecutors argued Banks was scheduled to meet with Merritt, who he’d connected with on Craigslist, to sell Merritt his 2011 Range Rover. At some point during a test drive of the vehicle on Sept. 12, 2020, prosecutors said Merritt shot Banks before taking the vehicle and Banks’ body to his home state of Virginia.
For the first time — the jury was able to see, in person, the jacket Banks was wearing when he went missing. It was stained with blood and had several holes created by bullets.
“There are darkened spots, and black speckling around these holes. That, in my experience, indicated that the gunshots were in close contact, within a few feet,” said Terry Jackson the lead investigator in the case with Raleigh Police Department.
Merritt was initially charged with robbery, larceny of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon. When Banks remains were found, Jackson charged Merritt with murder.
Western Virginia assistant chief medical examiner Dr. Amy Tharp examined Banks remains. While police believed the murder likely happened in North Carolina, the remains were found in Virginia which was Tharp’s jurisdiction.
Tharp said Banks was shot a minimum of five times but could have been shot up to nine times. Tharp explained Banks body was in an advanced stage of decomposition.
“It was clear he’d been dead for a while,” Tharpe said.
The medical examiner said the advanced stage made it difficult to determine whether the injuries were entrance or exit wounds. It’s why she couldn’t be certain of whether some of the wounds found on and in Banks’s body were from the same bullet or different bullets.
Tharp concluded two of the bullets hit the back of Banks’ head and neck. She testified either one of those could have been lethal.
“Our controlling of our breathing is our diaphragm and you have to have activity above a certain level to get that and an injury in that area is going to shut off his ability to breath,” she said.
Before both sides rested, Merritt was given the option to testify in his own trial. He opted not to and his attorney did not bring forward any of their own witnesses either.
Merritt’s attorney did ask the judge to dismiss the case saying no one in the courtroom identified her client as Merritt. The judge ruled against the request stating he was identified in police interview video shown during the trial.