Nearly three years ago on a Wednesday in late July, Dr. Feng Liu, a late professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, went for a brief walk off campus during his lunch break.

Moments after departing, he was robbed, beaten with a rock and left for dead by two assailants that used his credit cards to purchase shoes and a mobile phone from online vendors.

According to Jim Woodall, the district attorney of Orange and Chatham counties, those assailants may have evaded justice if not for the courageous actions of Scott Banks.

“If. Mr Banks had not been so attentive and realized something was wrong, it could have been several days before they were arrested; it’s possible they might not have been arrested at all,” he stated. “Scott Banks, in my opinion, was really a hero in this situation and aided the investigation immeasurably.”

Banks was performing his duties as a parking services employee with the municipal government when he inadvertently encountered the aftermath of the robbery-turned-murder.

“Mr. Banks immediately thought something seemed wrong,” Woodall relayed. “He realized that Professor Liu was very badly injured; he asked the two people standing there — Troy Arrington and Derick Davis — why they were not calling 911.”

The suspicious behavior of Arrington and Davis led Banks to take pictures of them in a discreet manner after he hailed paramedic services and law enforcement officers to the scene.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue noted that investigators used those pictures along with testimonials provided by Banks to arrest the two suspects and facilitate one conviction.

“There’s no question in my mind that Scott’s actions and his attentiveness to what he saw and his ability to recall that and share that with responding officers absolutely made that case,” he affirmed. “He truly was and is a hero.”

During legal proceedings in the case, Banks was described by Woodall as being “very emotional” because he felt that Liu was “contributing so much to the community.”

“He was doing important cancer research; he had a wonderful family; his daughter was expecting a child — his first grandchild in just a few weeks,” he recalled. “Scott had learned all those things about Professor Liu and he just felt it was such a tragedy; he said he wished he had gotten there earlier.”

The murder of Liu caused significant consternation in a university town known for its safety, but Woodall emphasized that residents like Banks affirm the stellar reputation of Chapel Hill.

“I think one of the reasons that it’s such a great place to live is because there are people like Scott Banks who live here,” he claimed. “He’s been a long-time Chapel Hill employee; he’s a very nice man, a really great guy, and I think he’s part of what makes this community great.”

Arrington was found guilty last month by a jury and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for murdering Liu and committing robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Davis has been held in the Orange County Jail since his arrest in 2014 and is currently awaiting a jury trial on the same charges that were filed against Arrington.

Footage by WUNC.