RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Two years ago, William “Andy” Banks went missing after meeting someone from Craigslist to sell a vehicle in Raleigh. Banks’ body would later be found in Virginia.
On Tuesday, the trial of his suspected murderer Justin Fernando Merritt, of Danville, Virginia, began.
In 2020, Banks’ family said he was meeting someone in the K&W Cafeteria parking lot at Cameron Village about selling his 2011 Silver Range Rover Sport, according to police.
Banks’ Range Rover was later found in Danville on Sept. 14 of that year. Merritt was arrested that day in relation to the disappearance of Banks.
On Sept. 17, 2020, the Chatham Star Tribune reported Banks’ remains were found in tall grass in Chatham, a town north of Danville on U.S. 29.
Meritt was charged with murder, robbery, larceny of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
On Tuesday, prosecutors began to paint a picture of what they believe happened to Banks on Sept. 12, 2020.
Among those who took the stand was Banks’ friend, Carter Whitley, who testified he knew Banks was on his way to meet someone about selling his Range Rover. He began to feel uneasy when he couldn’t get a hold of Banks later that day.
“It was unusual for us to not have heard if he had or hadn’t sold the vehicle at this point or in general heard from him at all,” Whitley said.
Whitley testified he took it upon himself to retrace Banks’ possible last steps. He was eventually able to track Bank’s cell phone to the side of Interstate 40 in Cary.
“It was really unusual for it to have been discarded from his presence at all,” said Whitley.
In another crucial step, Whitley gained access to Bank’s Google account. Through it, he found messages exchanged with the potential buyer — Merritt.
Merritt’s brother-in-law Robert Wilkins testified on the stand Tuesday that Merritt wanted someone to go with him to see the Range Rover.
“He asked me the night before, ‘Do you want to go to Raleigh with me to check out this Range Rover what-not?'” Wilkins said.
Merritt arranged for them to travel to Raleigh in his mother’s vehicle. Wilkins testified he brought his 11-year-old daughter along for the ride.
“[Banks] finally showed up. He parked about four parking spots down, brother-in-law got out. He was going to test drive,” Wilkins said.
He testified he and his daughter stayed behind as Merritt went for the half-hour test drive. Wilkins said Merritt returned and signaled that he was ready to go. Wilkins testified he did not see another person in the vehicle with Merritt when he returned in the Range Rover.
That test drive was the last time anyone claims seeing Banks.
Raleigh police officers on the stand testified that the messages between Banks and the defendant led them to Merritt’s hometown, Danville. With the help of local law enforcement agencies, they found Banks’ Range Rover behind an abandoned church with a cover over it.
Photos shown in court revealed red-colored spots inside the Range Rover. One officer on the stand noted he smelled a strong scent of bleach in the vehicle.
A search warrant was executed on Merritt’s home where officers found guns and ammunition. As a convicted felon, Merritt was not allowed to be in possession of a firearm.
The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.