Defense argues man accused of killing Andy Banks in 2020 did not premeditate the murder

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Trial begins for man accused of killing Andy Banks
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The first day of the Andy Banks murder trial included opening statements, multiple witnesses testifying and the defense team admitting that Justin Fernando Merritt shot and killed Banks.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The first day of the Andy Banks murder trial included opening statements, multiple witnesses testifying and the defense team admitting that Justin Fernando Merritt shot and killed Banks.

"The evidence will show you that Justin shot Andy in that car. The evidence will show you that Justin left Andy's body in a field in Chatham, Virginia. And the evidence will show you that that car was found tarped about 300 feet away from Justin's mother's house in Danville, Virginia. We are not going to be contesting any of those things," Merritt's attorney Alexis Strombotne said.

Merritt's case hinges not on whether he killed Banks or not, but instead on whether he planned to kill Banks.

"The state has the burden of proving to you beyond a reasonable doubt every single element of every crime charged," Strombotne said. She argues that Merritt did not premeditate killing Banks, which is a requirement for convicting someone of first-degree murder.

"The defendant drove around in his car, told no one about this. Didn't breathe a word of it, after killing Andy with a gun he wasn't supposed to have, depriving his family of their child and their friend." Assistant District Attorney Patrick Latour said.

Meanwhile, the prosecution's case Tuesday included emotional testimony from Banks' friends who detailed their last interactions with him.

The crime happened in mid-September 2020. Merritt and Banks connected via Craigslist about an SUV that Banks was wanting to sell.

Banks' friend James Hamblin testified Tuesday that the two were scheduled for a follow-up face-to-face meeting on Sept. 12 at The Village parking lot so Merritt's mechanic could take a look at the vehicle.

The trial of Justin Fernando Merritt, who stands accused of killing Andy Banks back in 2020, officially got underway Tuesday.

Banks' friend called 911 after becoming worried they had not heard from Banks for several hours.

Two days later, Banks' SUV was found in Danville, Virginia, but there were no signs of him. Police in Virginia arrested and charged Merritt on Sept. 15 for allegedly stealing Banks' car.

On Sept. 16, Banks' body was found in Virginia. Merritt was then charged with murder.

"The defendant took Andy Banks' car after he chose to shoot him at least five times in the back, and then dump his body in a field to conceal him so that he would never be found," Latour said during opening statements Tuesday.

Another testimony Tuesday came from Raleigh police officer Katherine Sills.

Sills said it was immediately evident that someone was amiss in the case because Banks was not the type of person to just disappear.

"Upon looking into Andy, I realized that this wasn't typical behavior of someone who, it didn't appear that he had anything to run away from. All of his friends and family said that he was very close to them, that they had constant contact with him," Stills testified.

The trial is slated to last through early to mid-next week. Stay with ABC11 for updates on the trial.