RALEIGH — Police in Raleigh said a body found last week in southside Virginia has been positively identified as a Raleigh man who vanished while trying to sell his Range Rover.
Authorities said they are investigating the disappearance of William Anderson “Andy” Banks as a homicide. On Thursday, officials said 34-year-old Justin Fernando Merritt of Danville, Virginia, was charged with Banks' murder.
“We know this arrest will not ease the pain the family and friends of Mr. Banks are experiencing with the loss of their loved one,” Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said. "We do, however, hope that they will gain some measure of comfort with this arrest.
Holly Haygood teared up Friday thinking about Banks, who was her childhood friend.
“We love you Andy, and we’ll see you on the other side,” Haygood said.
Merritt, who had arranged to buy Banks' SUV, had already been arrested and charged with crimes related to the theft of the vehicle as well as possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
“You ruined a lot of lives,” Haygood said.
Haygood said she is a Christian and she will pray for Merritt and his family.
Merritt was arraigned on Friday and is being held on a $2 million bond.
“Hopefully It will bring closure and he will not see the light of day,” Haygood said.
On Thursday, Raleigh police said they believe Banks' body was recovered by the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office. On Saturday, Raleigh police confirmed the body had been positively identified as Banks.
Banks, 39, was last seen Saturday afternoon after his family said he was meeting someone in the K&W Cafeteria parking lot at Cameron Village about selling his 2011 Silver Range Rover Sport.
Banks' Range Rover was located in Danville on Monday.
“We’ll really miss him,” Haygood said.
Suspect makes court appearance
In court Wednesday, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Patrick LaTour said Merritt came from Virginia “under the guise” of buying Banks' SUV.
According to warrants for his arrest, Merritt used a firearm to threaten Banks' life during the robbery.
“All of these charges relate to a situation here in Raleigh which the victim in this case is still unaccounted for. Law enforcement suspect further of these charges, foul play involved. I would ask you substantially the defendant’s bond increase bond,” said LaTour.
LaTour said Merritt has no ties to the Raleigh area, and physical evidence linked Merritt to the Range Rover.
“They spoke to several witnesses that corroborated at least that, and based on physical evidence that they have found within the car that they believe there to have been a dangerous weapon used in the taking of that automobile,” LaTour said.
LaTour asked Wake County Judge Ned Mangum to also consider Merritt’s three previous felony convictions when considering his bond.
“The defendant has prior criminal convictions that I think are important and enlightening for the court when considering the defendant’s bond,” LaTour said.
Merritt has three previous felony convictions – including illegal use of a firearm and burglary.
The attorney representing Merritt in court Wednesday objected to raising his bond, saying it was already high for the charges he’s currently facing.
Mangum raised Merritt’s bond from $265,000 to $2 million.
There is zero evidence of criminal conduct by Banks, LaTour said.
Victim grew up in Gaston County, graduated from Ashbrook High School
William Anderson Banks, Jr., known as “Andy” to his friends, has not been seen or heard from since Saturday when he told friends he was going to the Cameron Village area to meet a man who was interested in buying his SUV.
“Regardless of what state Andy is in, everybody just wants there to be an end to this part of it, to know where he is,” friend Cliff Cash said Wednesday. “That really happened pretty fast, so I think that’s pretty solid police work and I know the family feels that way.”
Banks' family did not comment on the latest developments.
Banks' 2011 Range Rover, which he was trying to sell, was found Monday afternoon in Danville, Virginia. On Tuesday, Justin Fernando Merritt, 34, was arrested and accused of stealing Banks' vehicle.
Merritt was extradited to Raleigh on Wednesday morning. Arrest warrants out of Wake County released on Monday said Merritt used a gun to threaten Banks and steal his SUV.
Friends told Channel 9 that Banks grew up in Gaston County. He graduated from Ashbrook High School before going to college at N.C. State.
Search warrant sheds light on new details
A search warrant released by the Danville Police Department shows the case has been considered a homicide investigation since Monday.
It states that Banks' phone was found on the side of a road in North Carolina after he was reported to have met with Merritt.
The warrant shows police searched Merritt’s home and found a handgun, three phones, boxes of ammunition and two spent shell casings.
By Wednesday morning, Merritt had been moved to Wake County Detention Center and appeared before a judge later in the afternoon. He is being held on a $2 million secured bond.
In court Wednesday, Merritt heard the charges he’s facing: Larceny of a motor vehicle, which carries up to 39 months. Robbery with a dangerous weapon, which carries up to 204 months. He was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, which carries up to 47 months.
“As a decent human being the right thing to do would be for him to help them,” Cash said. “But I don’t know if he’s a person who’s particularly worried about doing the right thing.”
Merritt has only been charged in connection to stealing Banks' SUV. He has not even been named as a suspect in the homicide.
“This one matters a lot to the people who love him”
Flyers were seen in the area of Banks' disappearance on Monday, encouraging people to contact police if they see him.
“The Holy Spirit be with him and keep him until we find him,” his mother, Robin Banks, said.
Channel 9 obtained 911 calls after Banks vanished.
“I can see on his text messages, that he last checked his phone at 1:42 p.m., so that was at right before 2 o’clock,” the caller told dispatch. “And so, he has not looked at his phone since then. His battery is on. It’s ringing and all that jazz.”
Andy Banks' brother had a message for his sibling.
“I love you and our family loves you and all of your friends love you,” he said.
Cliff Cash spoke to Channel 9 from the side of the road on his way to Raleigh Monday to look for his childhood friend.
“This one matters a lot to the people who love him,” he said.
Cash and Banks were classmates at three schools in Gaston County and both graduated from Ashbrook High.
“Andy is a great guy who is very, very loved by his community and by a lot of people,” Cash said.
Flyers are up outside of homes near Cameron Village. Just across the street - in this parking lot - is where William Banks was last seen before he went missing. #ABC11 pic.twitter.com/nDSLb3VLTi— Elaina Athans (@AthansABC11) September 14, 2020
Friends said that Banks arranged a Saturday meeting on Craigslist to sell a 2011 Silver Range Rover Sport. He had purchased the SUV and repaired it himself.
He hasn’t been seen since he left to sell the SUV.
“This is a guy who is a son, a brother, and an uncle and just the nicest guy,” Cash told Channel 9. “I don’t think there’s peace of mind until we have some answers.”
Banks was reportedly last seen wearing blue Patagonia shorts, a grey shirt with a picture of a mountain on the front and flip flops.
Cox Media Group