RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For the first time, jurors in the Andy Banks trial were able to see his bullet-ridden jacket in person. They were also able to see text messages between Banks and his suspected killer.
Justin Merritt is on trial for the 2020 shooting death of Banks. Prosecutors say 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, prosecutors believe Merritt shot Banks five times in the back before taking the vehicle and Banks’ body to his home state of Virginia.
Near Banks’ body was the red jacket he was seen wearing before he disappeared. Lead investigator in the case, Terry Jackson, walked along the jury box showing them the jacket. He pointed to dark holes around jacket where it appeared bullet holes penetrated.
“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 Jackson.
Jackson also shared messages obtained by Banks’ friends. They became worried about him after not hearing back after an arranged meet up with Merritt. Jackson says those friends, who testified Tuesday, provided screenshots of the conversations to law enforcement.
Those text messages showed Banks and Merritt first met on Sept. 8, 2020, for an initial look at the car. They then met again on Sept. 12, the same day Banks went missing.
Witnesses from earlier in the week believed Merritt wanted to bring a mechanic for a second look at the Range Rover. He brought his brother-in-law and niece, neither of whom were mechanics.
On Tuesday, Merritt’s brother-in-law, John Wilkins, testified he and Merritt drove to Raleigh from Danville, Virginia, in a RAV4 belonging to Merritt’s mother. He said Merritt went for a test drive with Banks but he stayed in the RAV4 with his daughter.
Evidence presented in court showed both men’s cell phone were traveling the same area until about 2:30 p.m. At that point, Bank’s cell phone remained along I-40 in Cary, and never moved until it was found. Merritt’s cell phone started to move northwest toward Virginia, according to the evidence presented in the trial.
The state also showed jurors photos of the where Banks’ body was found on Sept. 17 in a rural, grassy field in Chatham, Virginia, about 20 miles north of Danville.
At 3:14 p.m., evidence showed Merritt texted Banks saying, “Thanks for letting me check out the range again man. Sorry we couldn’t agree on a price. I’ll send the guy I was telling you about, the info when I get back.”
Merritt follows that up with another text at 3:27 p.m. that said, “He’s expecting your call.“
There was no reply from Banks’ phone.
When Merritt returned from the test drive, Wilkins said his brother-in-law signaled he was ready to leave.
Wilkins testified he did not see Banks or anyone else in the Range Rover but wasn’t paying much attention. He told jurors he figured Merritt had purchased the Range Rover. Wilkins said he drove the RAV4 back to Danville while Merritt drove the Range Rover.
They drove together until Wilkins stopped for lunch with his daughter. Jurors were presented a text message Merritt sent Wilkins at 3:30 p.m.. It read, “Just head to ya’ll house bro. I got to make a stop.”