BURLINGTON – The alleged mastermind of a murder-for-hire plot that led to the kidnapping and fatal shooting of a Danville man more than four years ago appeared in Vermont court Tuesday to face criminal charges that could carry the death penalty.
Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, from Los Angeles. California has pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering and murder charges in the January 2018 killing of Gregory Davis, 49, of Danville, in U.S. District Court in Burlington.
Gumrukcu was arrested in May and taken to Vermont last week for an arraignment after initially being taken to the state to face charges against him. He is the fourth out-of-state man accused of planning to kill Davis and will be taken to Vermont to face federal charges.
If convicted, the charges against Gumrukcu carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty. Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek the death penalty in the case.
Biomedical researcher Gumrukcu was taken into court on Tuesday, handcuffed and dressed in a green prison uniform.
He said little at the hearing, answering mostly one or two words to the questions Judge Jeffrey Crawford put to him about his background and whether he understood the charges against him.
He told the judge that he was a Turkish citizen, was fluent in English and read and understood the criminal charges he faced.
Gumrukcu’s attorney, David Kirby, did not challenge the prosecution’s request for his client to remain in custody while the case is pending. Gumrukcu has been behind bars since he was arrested by federal authorities in California in May.
Jerry Banks, 34, of Colorado, was charged in April with kidnapping Davis from his Danville home on Jan. 1. June 6, 2018. A day later, Davis’ body was found in a snowdrift about 15 miles from his home after being shot multiple times before, according to court documents.
Banks, posing as U.S. Marshal, told Davis that he had come to arrest him on racketeering charges, according to the charging documents.
Banksy was the first person to be implicated in the conspiracy. Although court documents accuse Banks of shooting and killing Davis, so far he has only been charged with kidnapping. Banks pleaded not guilty to the crime and was taken into custody.
Prosecutors announced in a news release late Tuesday afternoon that they had added charges against Banks, adding one count of his involvement in a murder-for-hire conspiracy that led to Davis’ death.
Another suspect, Aron Lee Ethridge, 42, of Henderson, Nevada, has reached a plea deal with prosecutors. He is awaiting sentencing and faces up to 27 years in prison.
This summer, he pleaded guilty to murder and conspiracy to kidnap causing death. Prosecutors said Ethridge found and helped guide Banks in the killing.
Prosecutors allege that Ethridge received more than $100,000 from Berks Eratay and Gumrukcu as payments “to pay for the murder.” Eratay, from Las Vegas, Nevada, has been friends with Gumrukcu and has worked with him in the past.
Eratay, like Gumrukcu, is also a resident of Turkey. The pair also previously worked as magicians, according to court documents in the case.
The charging documents allege that Elate told Esridge that he was acting on behalf of Gumrukcu, that Gumrukcu paid, and that Gumrukcu was angry with Davis over the failed business deal.
According to court documents, Gumrukcu feared Davis would bring evidence that Gumrukcu defrauded Davis in a multimillion-dollar oil deal with Davis in early 2015.
Eratay pleaded not guilty to the same charges Gumrukcu faced in July and was also ordered to be detained pending trial.
Gumrukcu’s attorney, Kirby, was Vermont’s top federal prosecutor before entering private practice.
Kirby told a judge at Tuesday’s hearing that a bank froze his client and his client’s husband for holding in a joint account after Melissa Davis filed a federal civil wrongful death lawsuit against him earlier this year. assets, who was Gregory Davis’ wife at the time of his death.
Gumrukcu owns millions of dollars in Enochian Biosciences Inc. stock, according to court documents. — A California biotech company in which he holds a stake.
Kirby asked the judge Tuesday about the process for unfreezing client accounts to allow him to obtain funds to pay for his legal representation in the criminal case against him.
Crawford told Kirby that it was best to take the matter as part of civil wrongful death proceedings before proceeding as part of a criminal case.
Kirby said that’s what he would do, and if needed, bring it up again later as part of the criminal proceedings.
Melissa Davis appeared at the hearing on Tuesday but declined to comment after Gumrukcu was arraigned.
Gumrukcu’s husband, William Anderson Witkind, also attended the hearing on Tuesday and declined to comment outside the courthouse after the proceedings.
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