Man denies kidnapping charge in alleged murder-for-hire plot

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Colorado man pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court in Vermont to kidnapping a man who was later found shot to death in a snowbank in 2018 in what prosecutors allege is a murder-for-hire case stemming from a financial dispute.

Federal prosecutors say they believe Jerry Banks, 34, of Fort Garland, Colorado, killed Gregory Davis, 49, of Danville, Vermont, but he has not been charged in the killing. U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford ordered Banks to remain detained until trial, noting the prosecutors’ concerns about his risk of flight and safety risk to potential witnesses.

“Someone who would kill for money would likely kill or improperly influence a witness or otherwise seek to influence the course of a trial that would result in his life in prison,” Paul Van de Graaf and Jonathan Ophardt, assistant U.S. attorneys for Vermont, wrote in their detention request. They said Banks has a history of living “off the grid” and no strong connection to Vermont or anywhere else in the country.

Banks’ federal public defender, Mary Nerino, did not contest detention and would not comment on the charges after the arraignment.

Davis was abducted from his Danville, Vermont, home on Jan. 6, 2018, and found shot to death the next day in a snowbank on a back road in Barnet.

Prosecutors detailed the alleged conspiracy in a filing Monday in federal court in Las Vegas. They wrote that Davis had been threatening to go to the FBI with information that Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, an inventor and the co-founder of a Los Angeles-based biotechnology company, was defrauding Davis in a multimillion-dollar oil deal Gumrukcu and Gumrukcu’s brother had entered into with Davis in 2015.

Gurumkcu was facing felony fraud charges in California in 2017 and was working on a deal that came together soon after Davis’ death that gave him significant ownership stake in Enochian Bioscience.

“Gumrukcu therefore had a strong motive to prevent Davis from reporting yet another fraud, and likely threatening the Enochian deal,” the filing states.

Banks was arrested in April in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. According to an affidavit, FBI investigators used cellphone and automobile records to link Banks to the kidnapping.

Prosecutors have also charged Aron Lee Ethridge, 42, of Las Vegas, with kidnapping in connection with the death of Davis. Prosecutors say that after the killing of Davis, Banks called Ethridge, who has since pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping charge.

Last week, Gumrukcu, of Los Angeles, and Berk Eratay, 35, of Las Vegas, were arrested on charges of conspiring to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder-for-hire which resulted in the death of Davis.

Gumrucku’s attorney did not immediately return an email Wednesday seeking comment. Eratay’s attorney said Eratay denies the allegations and looks forward to his day in court.

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Associated Press writer Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont, contributed to this report.

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