Exclusive: Alvin Banks speaks out on accidental shooting death of wife
03/26/2018 5:07 pm PDT
A Crime Watch Daily exclusive new interview: For the very first time, the man at the center of a controversial shooting death in Virginia is breaking his silence about what he says really happened inside his home.
It all starts with a Virginia man rushing into a fire house with a desperate request: His wife is dying and he needs help -- but it's how she got that injury that took investigators down a long and winding road.
Even though she was the youngest of her siblings, Katrina Banks was the matriarch of her big family.
"She was our backbone of our family," said Katrina's sister Diane Cromwell-Johnson. "She always made sure we had the right education, we paid our bills, we was all in order. She just made us come together even if we lived far away. Any kind of special occasion, family reunions, birthdays."
The last family gathering Katrina planned was a big birthday bash.
"We always celebrate our birthday together because her birthday is a week before mine is," said Katrina's mother Alice Cromwell.
It was the weekend before Thanksgiving in 2016. Katrina Banks got everyone to Baltimore for three days of fun.
"We celebrated, had a birthday cookout with the family. All the family showed up," Alice said.
"Technically I wasn't even supposed to be there. I'm not a big communicator. I don't like to socialize," said Diane.
But it wasn't easy to say no to Katrina.
"She was my best friend," said Diane. "She was like my heart and soul."
By Sunday afternoon, it was time for everyone to say their good-byes.
"I just told her how much I loved her more than life," said Diane.
And with that, Katrina and her two kids headed back to Virginia. Her husband Alvin, who had driven up separately, wouldn't be far behind.
"It was just so much love, so much togetherness, and he was all attentive to her," said Diane. "I mean, it was just loving family."
Alvin Banks, a former Marine, was a very successful RV salesman in Richmond, Virginia. Katrina was a nurse who'd just earned her master's degree. The couple had a young son and daughter. To everyone who knew them, they seemed like a perfect couple.
"When I saw them together I can say they looked like they were loving. I would have never have guessed anything different," said Diane Cromwell-Johnson.
Until that Sunday night, when the image of their picture-perfect marriage was shattered by gunfire. At the hospital, Alvin tells detectives he mistakenly shot his wife during a heated argument sparked by jealousy.
"'Why the [----] you called her seven times?" Alvin Banks tells detectives in a recorded interrogation.
Alvin says he'd just returned from Baltimore and was preparing dinner when his wife starts questioning him about phone calls he'd made to her cousin Roxanne.
"I'm like 'Where are you going with this?'" Alvin tells detectives.
Katrina's cousin had spent the night with the couple at their Baltimore hotel that weekend. After checking out, Alvin claims, she called asking him about a missing pair of earrings.
"She said 'No, you called her seven times.' I'm like 'Trina,' I said 'I was driving back, we lost connection, she called me back, I called her back.' And she kept pushing, and I was like 'Leave it alone, there's nothing going on.'"
"So basically this whole thing stemmed from her thinking that you were messing around on her?"
"Oh my God, it's [----] crazy dude! Roxanne, all the women in the family are threatened by her. She's a beautiful woman," says Alvin.
Alvin insists he wasn't messing around with Roxanne, and says when he couldn't convince his wife, the fight got physical.
"I picked up a TV tray, I threw it downstairs, making sure I didn't hit her -- Bam! I was like 'Stop, you're pissing me off.'"
When the yelling continued, he grabbed his gun.
"So I figured if I grabbed my .45 and shot a couple rounds off in the air, then that would make her shut the [----] up," says Alvin.
The gunshots did more than shut Katrina Banks up. One of five bullets fired struck her in the shoulder. Rather than call 911, Alvin ran to a nearby fire station for help.
"I said 'Dude, I shot my wife, I shot my wife.' So he comes out and he's like 'What?' And I said 'I shot my [----] wife.' I said 'Let's go, let's go, come on let's go, let's go.'"
But rescuers arrived too late to save Katrina.
Detectives broke the devastating news during their interrogation.
"Your wife has passed, I'm not going to not tell you man, it wouldn't be right, OK."
"That's what we're here to find out."
A single bullet had entered Katrina's shoulder and traveled through her lungs and spine before exiting her body.
Diane Cromwell-Johnson had just gotten into bed when detectives called with the tragic news.
"They told me my sister was gone. And all I could think about, 'No, she's not because I had just talked to her,'" said Diane.
She says Katrina had texted her a little earlier to say she'd made it home safely.
"I hung the phone up because I thought I was dreaming," said Diane. "The detective called me and he said 'Don't hang up, it's not a dream. This is real. Your sister is gone.'"
Shortly after Katrina Banks was shot dead by her husband Alvin, he admitted to cops that he pulled the trigger during a heated argument.
"I went 'Pop, pop, pop,' I think it was three, and I noticed it got quiet," Alvin said during the recorded interrogation.
Just days before the tragic event, Alvin was photographed with the gun holstered around his shoulder and a T-shirt reading "Keep calm." As he was grilled by cops at the hospital, Alvin Banks was anything but calm, insisting the killing was an accident, claiming the bullet that ended her life was only intended to end their argument.
"Could you see her when you were shooting the rounds?"
"Yeah, I was looking at her, I was shooting that [----] straight up, 'cause it was just a 'Get away, stop' thing,'" says Alvin.
Investigators weren't buying it. Alvin's hot-headed moment would soon carry serious consequences.
"Mr. Banks was arrested the night of the incident and charged with second-degree murder," said Virginia Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor, Henrico County.
And after a close look at the evidence:
"We were able to elevate the charge from second-degree to first-degree," said Shannon Taylor.
Alvin Banks was also charged with using a firearm to commit a felony, unlawful discharge of a firearm inside a home, and two counts of child endangerment.
What were the endangerment charges based on?
"The idea that these children were in the home, in close proximity to their mother at the time that she was killed," Taylor tells Crime Watch Daily.
They were charges his own lawyers knew would be a challenge to fight.
"One of those bullets went through the wall down into the basement and lodged in the wall inches above baby's head," said defense attorney Joe Morrissey.
But as for the charge of first-degree murder:
"We told them there will be no plea to a murder charge, none, don't even bring it to us," said Morrissey. "We had a strong case."
The prosecution was just as confident.
How did the charge of second-degree murder get elevated to first-degree murder, and why?
"The difference between a first-degree murder and a second-degree murder is the premeditation and the aforethought before pulling the trigger," said Taylor. "Our theory was that not only was this firearm brought in to perhaps threaten and stop the argument, but actually to stop Katrina and kill her."
Alvin Banks was held without bail for nearly a year until his trial got underway.
"When we were picking the jury, we asked them 'Just because my client fired the gun in the house and a bullet ultimately killed the wife, are you automatically already going to convict him?' And we tried to select a jury that would be open-minded to this," said Joe Morrissey.
During opening statements, Morrissey told jurors why Alvin Banks was not guilty of first-degree murder.
"Number one, you've got to shoot to intend to kill," said Morrissey. "Number two, you've got to do it with malice -- that means a bad heart, mean-spirited way. And just because you shoot in the house, which shows anger, which shows frustration, doesn't equate with malice."
Shannon Taylor is the Commonwealth's Attorney for Henrico County, Virginia.
"The idea of anyone bringing a firearm into an argument to suggest that some action is accidental, is simply just not logical," said Taylor.
The case largely came down to flying bullets and their trajectories. Both sides agreed that three of the five bullets fired by Alvin Banks were shot into the ceiling. The defense argued the other two bullets were fired into the floor.
"One we know did because it went down in the basement," said Morrissey.
That bullet lodged in the wall just above the couple's 2-year-old daughter, who was asleep in her bed.
"The question then became Where is the fifth bullet?" said Morrissey.
Prosecutors argued it was fired straight into the door leading downstairs, going directly through Katrina's shoulder.
But defense attorney James Maloney told jurors the evidence proves otherwise.
"There were a few points of the forensics that I thought were particularly important, just as their evidence laid out," said James Maloney. "First of all, the bullet itself that everyone agreed was the fatal shot had a dent in it."
He argued that dent was proof the bullet had ricocheted off of something. Maloney says in court that the prosecution's own expert agreed.
"Second, there was a hole in the door. Not just a hole though, it was elongated. Their own expert agreed that that type of hole could very well be caused by a tumbling bullet, rather than one that was traveling straight on," said Maloney.
And third, the bullet wound in Katrina's shoulder.
"Another one of their experts, the medical examiner, by looking at the shape of the entry wound, she conceded that it was a reasonable possibility that that bullet, rather than passing straight through, was passing through because it was tumbling," said Maloney.
Alvin Banks's lawyers were so confident the evidence would clear their client that they didn't even put him on the stand.
"There was nothing that he could add to the case. We said 'Why do we put him on?' They already had his statement," said Joe Morrissey.
Instead, the 18-minute interrogation by Henrico County Police detectives was played for the jury.
"I shot that son of a bitch straight up in the air. It must have hit something and ricocheted down," Banks says in the recorded interrogation.
Prosecutors pointed out Alvin Banks's extensive weapons training as an ex-Marine as proof he intended to kill his wife that night.
"If he is the experienced marksman that he is asserting himself to be, he should know how to handle a firearm in a responsible manner," said Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor.
And firing it into the house?
"Is absolutely irresponsible," said Taylor.
Irresponsible, yes. But does it rise to the level of first-degree murder? In the end, 12 jurors said no, in a big way, finding Alvin Banks not guilty of murder, and even refusing to convict on a possible lesser charge.
"The jury could have given the lightest offense, manslaughter, and they choose not to even do that," said Morrissey.
For Katrina's family, it was a devastating blow.
What went through your mind when you heard the verdict acquitted Alvin Banks?
"After I heard the first one I was already gone," said Katrina's sister Diane Cromwell-Johnson. "I was gone."
How did you get him off?
"My partner and I felt from the very beginning that if we could show the jury that there was anger involved, but the anger wasn't directed towards 'I am going to kill wife,' but rather 'I'm going to do something dumb, like fire a gun inside the house,' that they would be open to our theory of what happened," said Joe Morrissey.
The jury did find Alvin Banks guilty on the two child-endangerment counts and unlawful discharge of a firearm inside a home. In January he was sentenced to 16 months behind bars. Then he was released the next day because of time served.
And now Alvin Banks is speaking with Crime Watch Daily in his first television interview.
You know there is a risk with speaking out?
"Absolutely," said Alvin.
Many people feel Alvin Banks should be in prison right now, and for a long time. But instead, the Virginia husband is a free man. And now in his first-ever national TV interview, he's talking to Crime Watch Daily about the night his wife Katrina was killed.
Nearly a year after Alvin Banks fired the shot that killed his wife Katrina, a Virginia jury found him not guilty of first-degree murder.
"It's not a victory, it's not a reward, because the bottom line is my wife isn't here anymore," said Alvin Banks.
Just weeks after being released from prison, Banks is telling his story exclusively to Crime Watch Daily.
Why are you speaking out?
"Because after talking to a few of my friends, they have no idea what really happened, and something as sensitive as this is, I wanted everyone to know exactly what happened," said Banks.
The former Marine appeared far more muted in our interview than he did during his police interrogation.
"At no point in my [----] military mind would I ever [----] point my [----] weapon at my wife. I love her. Y'all hear me?" Banks said in the interrogation. "I love her."
"Have you ever done that before?"
"Hell no! Hell no."
Alvin Banks says the tragic and deadly shooting occurred during the biggest fight he'd ever had with his wife.
"She was furious, I mean I had never seen her as mad before," said Banks.
According to prosecutors, you went off on a profanity-ranting raid. Is this true?
"Yes," said Banks.
You were outraged. You were very heated.
Isn't that how murders take place? People get upset, they get mad, they shoot somebody, they take them out. Were you that mad?
"No," said Banks. "That had never entered my mind."
According to Alvin Banks, the argument started when Katrina noticed he had repeatedly called her cousin Roxanne.
"I said 'Trina, calm down.' I said 'This is not that serious. She was looking for her earrings and she called you first, but your phone was dead,'" said Banks.
Alvin claims Katrina became completely unhinged when she saw the selfie he sent Roxanne.
"I'm like, 'You mean the picture of me and your brother at Buffalo Wild Wings holding a couple beers up?' I said, 'Yeah, what's wrong with that?'" said Banks.
Banks says the jealousy-filled fight quickly escalated. Katrina grabbed his phone and headed downstairs.
"So I followed behind her. As I turned to go down the steps, I saw my .45, and I just grabbed it, I shot off rounds," said Banks.
With your training especially, people will ask, Why did you pick up a firearm during an argument and fire it several times?
"Rage, just angry, I wanted her to stop, you know, and I figured popping off a few rounds, she would hear that and be like 'Whoa, that's -- we gonna end this conversation,'" said Banks. "I just knew that those rounds would go through the ceiling and settle on the floor."
But one of the bullets ricocheted down into the basement, striking Katrina in the shoulder.
"I went downstairs and I saw her laying there. And I said 'Girl, get up, stop playing.' I thought she was joking," said Banks.
Katrina wasn't playing.
"As I got closer down to her, I saw something shining on her shoulder. And I reached down and touched it. And I brought my hand up and it was blood. And I was like 'Oh my God,'" Alvin Banks tells Crime Watch Daily.
The bitter fight was definitely over. Alvin had killed his wife, the mother of his two youngest children.
When you heard your wife was dead, what went through your mind?
"First thing, I thought about my children," said Banks. "If it weren't for my children, I would take my own life, without a doubt, but I have to be here for them."
Alvin Banks soon faced five felony charges, including first-degree murder.
What did you think when those charges were filed against you?
"I thought they were absolutely ridiculous," said Banks. "I just, I could not believe it. Involuntary manslaughter, all day long. My wife was gone. And it was my actions that caused that."
Alvin Banks says that had he been charged with involuntary manslaughter, he would have pleaded guilty, and would likely still be behind bars.
The defense contends that you overreached with going for the murder-one charge.
"We believed that Mr. Banks's conduct was willful and premeditated, and because of the nature of the argument, that he wanted to inflict harm upon her," said Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor.
Alvin Banks did tell detectives the night of the killing that he felt like choking his wife.
"This is going to sound [----] up, I should've just [----] grabbed her, 'cause i wanted to grab her. I said 'I feel like [----] choking you right now.'"
That sounds like you wanted to harm her.
"When the detectives told me that she passed away, in my mind I was thinking 'I should have just choked her,'" said Banks. "Which would have been the difference between an argument, possible incarceration, but my wife would be alive."
Alvin Banks was convicted for endangering the lives of his two kids and for firing a gun inside a home. The day after his sentencing, he was released after serving a little more than 14 months behind bars -- not nearly enough for Katrina's heartbroken family.
Did Alvin Banks get away with killing his wife, your sister?
"For me, from my perspective, I believe so," said Diane Cromwell-Johnson.
How do you feel knowing that Alvin Banks is walking around free?
"I don't think that you would want those words on camera," said Katrina's mother Alice Cromwell.
But Alvin feels his wife's death is a life sentence.
"I'm only a shell of the man that I was because my wife is gone, the better half of me is gone," said Banks. "This will haunt me for the rest of my life. This is torture."
It's also been torture for Katrina's mother, who lost her son to heart disease a year before Katrina passed.
What do you want to say to Katrina's family?
"It was an honest mistake, it was an accident," said Alvin Banks. "Katrina meant the world to me. They know that."
Alice Cromwell says Alvin Banks never apologized directly to her, and she can't accept his explanation.
"With a weapon, there is no accident, because you have a choice," said Alice.
Despite the child-endangerment convictions, Alvin is again living with his two kids -- something Katrina's sister Diane didn't know until we told her.
"This is the first I'm hearing of this," said Diane Cromwell-Johnson. "I knew he had visited kids and it was monitored, but I did not know that part."
Is that salt in your wounds that he is in the home with the children?
"It's not even salt. It's just like I have been stabbed all over again, and they've been taken away," said Diane.
You have your kids. They are with you, but you were convicted of endangering their lives.
"This was an isolated incident," said Alvin. "If it was an unsafe environment from past actions, absolutely. If I had a history of temper tantrums or breaking things, shooting guns, anything..."
You now have a history of killing their mother.
"Right, but not at one point in my time did I think that I would ever harm my children," said Banks.
Diane says Alvin also never thought he'd hurt his wife.
Where do you think the children should be?
"No matter where these children are, he should not be living under the same roof with these kids," said Katrina's sister Diane. "He was charged with a crime of their life."
People would say that you don't deserve the kids.
"I don't have any weapons in my home now," said Alvin Banks.
That's because as a convicted felon Banks isn't allowed to own a gun. However he's hoping to change that. The ex-Marine is planning to appeal his convictions.
"If I do ever get my privileges back, they'll all be under lock and key. It just won't happen. My children mean the world to me. It was a bad decision," said Banks.
A bad split-second decision that left his two children without their mother, and left Katrina's heartbroken mother waiting to personally hear one thing.
"He never come to me and expressed to me what happened, never said 'I made a mistake. I messed up. I'm sorry,'" said Alice Cromwell. "Why you can't come to me and say those words? And mean those words? I haven't heard anything."