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After complaining about his attorneys and a judge in local media, a Missouri man accused of murder entered a surprising guilty plea on the morning when opening statements were set to be delivered in his trial.
Timothy Banowetz, 30, was accused of crossing state lines with the intent to rob prominent attorney Randy Gori, 47, at his Edwardsville, Illinois mansion, according to St. Louis’s KMOX. Banowetz created a “to-do” list, including plans to set Gori’s house on fire with the victims inside.
On Jan. 4, 2020, investigators say Banowetz approached Gori and his two sons with a fake gun after the trio returned home from dinner, according to KMOV 4. The defendant zip-tied the family and forced them into the garage while he ransacked the home. A witness then arrived at the residence.
“We believe at that point, Banowetz, enraged that his plan was falling apart, viciously stabbed Randy Gori in the basement of his home,” said Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine, according to KMOV. “His children were not present for this, thank God.”
Prosecutors believe Gori’s last act was to lead Banowetz to the basement, distancing the intruder from his children, according to KMOV. Gori was stabbed multiple times, and his throat slit.
“In my 22-year career as a law enforcement official, I [have] seen a lot of gruesome cases,” said Madison County Sheriff's Office Capt. David Vucich in a news release. “But this one elevates to the top of heinous and senseless crimes.”
Banowetz made off with the children’s cell phones, between $4,000 and $5,000 cash, and Gori’s 2020 Rolls-Royce, according to KMOV. Investigators found Banowetz’s truck not far from the Gori residence. While examining the vehicle, Banowetz appeared from out of the woods with blood on his shirt.
Prosecutors say Banowetz dropped a note at the scene, which contained a “to-do” list detailing his plans to rob Gori.
Items included, “Watch with binoculars from woods. Use gun and knife to subdue. Zip tie hands and duct tape mouth. Have withdraw $4-$6 million from the bank. Kill all of them and take zip ties and duct tape off. Burn bodies and house.”
“I don’t think you need me to admit to anything,” Banowetz told detectives while in custody, according to KMOV. “You guys already have what you need.”
Haine said evidence subsequently found on Banowetz’s computer was “disturbing.” He also said there was no prior relationship between Banowetz and Gori.
“The evidence tells a simpler tale,” said Haine, according to KMOV. “Greed and envy in a warped mind, which caused a terrible cold blood murder for money.”
Investigators found evidence that Banowetz googled, “What does $1 million look like,” shopped for zip ties online, and viewed photos of Gori’s children on their social media accounts.
Vucich stated that Banowetz acted alone.
“The defendant can best be described as having a transient and nomadic lifestyle,” said Vucich, who claimed to personally know Gori, referring to him as a generous man who would be missed.
Prosecutors painted Banowetz, a student at St. Louis College of Pharmacy, as a man desperate to pay off his student loans totaling $11,000, according to KMOX.
The state charged Banowetz with three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of armed robbery, auto theft, and three counts of aggravated unlawful restraint, according to court records.
Since then, Banowetz has been vocal about his frustrations with the presiding judge and the attorneys assigned to his case. He contacted KMOV and sat for a jailhouse interview, alleging he couldn’t get a fair trial because Judge Kyle Anne Napp accepted monetary contributions from the victim.
“Someone told me the judge took money from them,” Banowetz said in the interview. “That’s a conflict of interest.”
KMOV reported that Judge Napp, in fact, did take more than $40,000 in campaign contributions from Gori, his family and his law firm. The St. Louis news outlet also acknowledged that Gori paid KMOV for TV advertising.
Banowetz also expressed his frustration with his attorneys, claiming they could be doing more.
“I should have seen some evidence, maybe work on a defense strategy,” Banowetz told KMOV. “I might just have to represent myself, but that might be better than the only advice I’ve gotten right now is to plead guilty and go away.”
On Tuesday morning, minutes before opening statements were set to begin, Banowetz’s public defender, Mary Copeland, announced her client wished to enter a plea of guilty.
Banowetz faces a maximum of 70 years behind bars.
“We will be arguing for that maximum number,” said Haine, according to KMOV. “So for all practical purposes, he will never see the light of day as a free man again.”
A sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled.