Suspect pleads guilty in 2018 Vermont murder-for-hire case
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A 42-year-old Nevada man pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Burlington for his role in helping arrange the kidnapping and murder of a Vermont man stemming from a financial dispute.
Aron Lee Ethridge is one of four men who have been charged in the kidnapping of Gregory Davis from his Danville home Jan. 6, 2018. Davis was found shot to death in a snowbank the next day.
As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors and Ethridge’s defense attorney agreed to recommend a prison sentence of 27 years or less. The actual sentence, scheduled for December, will be up to the judge. Ethridge could be sentenced to life in prison.
Prosecutors say Ethridge arranged for Jerry Banks, 34, of Fort Garland, Colorado, to kidnap and then kill Davis. Banks allegedly called Ethridge the day after the kidnapping to inform him that Davis had been successfully kidnapped and killed.
Banks has only been charged with kidnapping, but prosecutors allege he killed Davis. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held pending trial.
In court Friday, Ethridge, dressed in a black and white prison jumpsuit, pleaded to two charges in the death of Davis, that he arranged for Banks to travel to Vermont to kill Davis and that he conspired with others to arrange for the killing of Davis.
During the 40-minute hearing, Ethridge answered a series of questions from U.S. District Court Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford by saying “yes, sir” or “no, sir.” When asked for his plea to the two charges against him, Ethridge answered “guilty.”
Prosecutors allege that Ethridge served as a middleman between Banks, Berk Eratay, 35, of Las Vegas, and Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, of Los Angeles, who were arrested in May on charges of conspiring to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of the murder-for-hire that resulted in the death of Davis.
Prosecutors say Davis had been threatening to go to the FBI with information that Gumrukcu, the co-founder of a Los Angeles-based biotechnology company, was defrauding Davis in a multimillion-dollar oil deal that Gumrukcu and his brother had entered into with Davis in 2015.
Eratay and Gumrukcu are both in custody pending their transfer to Vermont, where they will answer the charges after they arrive. It’s unclear when they will arrive in Vermont.
Gumrukcu’s Vermont attorney, David Kirby, was in court Friday. He declined to answer questions about the case.
Eratay paid Ethridge more than $110,000, some of which was paid to Banks. After Davis’ death, Eratay allegedly provided Ethridge with an additional payment in bitcoin.