Timothy Banowetz will remain in prison for the 2020 murder of prominent Edwardsville attorney Randy Gori.
Earlier this week, a Madison County Circuit Court judge dismissed his motion to withdraw the guilty plea he submitted in October 2021 and vacate his 70-year prison sentence.
In his handwritten motion, Banowetz claimed that the guilty plea had resulted from coercion and inadequate representation by his attorney, Public Defender Mary Copeland. He also wrote that Judge Kyle Napp should have recused herself due to political contributions from Gori.
At a hearing before Napp on Wednesday, prosecutors with State’s Attorney Tom Haine’s office successfully argued that the court had received Banowetz’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea too late.
“We hope this ruling brings an end to this convicted murderer’s absurd legal gamesmanship,” Haine stated in a press release.
“We are going to continue (to) make every possible effort to ensure this brutal individual serves every day of his 70-year sentence, so fully deserved, so that the family and loved ones of Randy Gori can continue to heal with a sense of closure.”
According to court documents, Banowetz’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea arrived at the Edwardsville courthouse on Dec. 5, 2022. He claimed that he mailed it on Dec. 20, 2021, shortly after his sentencing hearing, from Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro.
Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Loughrey filed a motion in March to dismiss Banowetz’s motion.
Loughrey argued that, under an Illinois Supreme Court rule, a defendant has 30 days from his sentencing date to file such a motion, and that Napp notified Banowetz of this deadline in open court.
Loughrey’s motion stated that Illinois Department of Corrections records didn’t support Banowetz’s claim that he had mailed his motion to withdraw his guilty plea nearly a year earlier.
“There is no practical explanation how the defendant’s pleading could have been mailed on December 20, 2021, yet not be received by the Clerk of the Court until December 5, 2022,” Loughrey wrote.
“There is no evidence that the defendant made any inquiry or attempt to determine the status of his pleading at any time after the date he purported to deposit said pleas in the U.S. Mail.”
At the hearing on Wednesday, Loughrey and Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Maricle presented evidence and testimony showing that Banowetz’s claim was false, according to Haine’s news release.
Police found Gori, 47, dead on Saturday night, Jan. 4, 2020, at his rural Edwardsville home after a woman called 911. Two days later, Banowetz was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, aggravated unlawful restraint and an offense related to vehicle theft.
Banowetz was a St. Louis pharmacy student and, according to prosecutors, he didn’t have the money to pay a $10,000 tuition bill.
The charges alleged that Banowetz bound the hands of Gori and two children before using a knife to stab Gori, then stole cash and two cellphones and fled in Gori’s black 2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV.
Prosecutors later reported that Banowetz had done internet research on the Gori family and supplies needed for the crime; that police found him near the home on Sunday morning with $4,000 in cash stolen from the kitchen; that his clothes were stained with Gori’s blood; and that he inadvertently pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket with a checklist that read:
“Watch with binoculars from woods, use gun and knife to subdue, zip-tie hands and Duct-tape mouth, have withdraw $4 to $6 million from bank, kill all of them and take zip ties and Duct tape off, burn bodies and house.”
Banowetz is now incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center.
Banowetz lived in Wenzville, Missouri, and later St. Louis, but authorities believe he was homeless at the time of his arrest. He had been estranged from his family for months, according to their former attorney.
The jury hadn’t yet been seated for Banowetz’s trial on Oct. 5, 2021, when he suddenly announced that he had decided to accept a prosecution deal and plead guilty to one count of first-degree murder and two counts of armed robbery. The other charges were dropped.
Banowetz notified Napp at his sentencing hearing on Dec. 10, 2021, that he was dismissing Copeland, his court-appointed attorney, and wanted to represent himself. He tried to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he hadn’t been provided with certain documents. Napp and Copeland disputed this. Napp sentenced him to 60 years in prison for murder and 10 years for armed robbery.
“The plea was not made voluntarily and was made because of both coercion and inadequate representation,” Banowetz wrote in his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
“I was told by my lawyer that I should take the deal because it was what the Gori family wanted. Then Sheriff Lakin, who had accepted a bribe (aka, political contribution) from the family, had me moved out of protective custody into general population.”
Banowetz went on to maintain that Copeland never showed him discovery (disclosure of evidence) or discussed a “defense strategy.”
“Copeland said that her only job was to make sure that my conviction would hold up on appeal,” he wrote. “ When I found out that the judge that would be sentencing me had accepted a $40,000 bribe (political contribution) from Gori, I asked her to file for a change of venue and Copeland refused to even file it for me.”
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