Justin Fernando Merritt has been convicted of murder in the killing of Andy Banks of Gastonia.
Merritt was accused of killing Banks after meeting him on Sept. 12, 2020, in Raleigh to buy an SUV Banks had listed on Craigslist. The SUV was found two days later in Danville, Virginia.
The trial began earlier this week, and on Friday, a jury returned a conviction for first-degree murder, according to our partners at WTVD. Merritt was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.
“It really broke my heart,” said Cliff Cash, a friend of Banks. “It’s some other kind of grief.”
Cash said he had known Banks since preschool and stayed friends while attending Ashbrook High School.
They continued their friendship into adulthood until the day Banks died.
Cash said the trial, which is being held in Virginia, means the world to him.
“I wish I could be there for no other reason than to show solidarity to the family,” Cash told Channel 9′s Ken Lemon over Zoom.
Prosecutors said Merritt responded to an online ad Banks had placed in 2020 offering to sell his SUV.
However, there was no sale when the two men met in Danville, prosecutors said.
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A prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that Banks was shot five times in the back.
Banks’ body was found in Virginia on Sept. 16, 2020.
VIDEO: Trial starts for murder of Gastonia man killed in Raleigh
Cash said he had never seen Banks get angry or raise his voice during their 20-plus years of friendship.
He said Banks was everyone’s friend.
“A bright light who was literally kind to everybody and I’m sure he was kind to this guy, too,” Cash said.
The start of testimony Tuesday was the first step toward healing for Cash and others who loved Banks.
The defense attorney didn’t deny the shooting, but asked jurors to listen for proof of murder.
“We are simply asking you to hold the state to its burden of proof,” the defense attorney said.
Cash said a conviction means justice, but it can’t do what he wants most.
“It doesn’t bring Andy back,” he said.
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