EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (KMOV.com) -- Murder suspect Timothy Banowetz told News 4 in an exclusive interview that he did not think he is going to get a fair trial because he said the judge in his case has taken political contributions from the victim, his law firm and family. Banowetz is accused in the murder of high-profile attorney Randy Gori inside his Metro East home in January last year.

Timothy Michael Banowetz

28-year-old Timothy Michael Banowetz is accused of fatally stabbing Randy Gori.

In recent court hearings, prosecutors seemed to indicate the evidence is overwhelming against Banowetz, who has never spoken out publicly about the case until now. 

Knowing he was being recorded in the jail, Banowetz didn't want to discuss evidence in the case, after he initially contacted News 4's Chief Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager. She conducted a video visit from jail. Banowetz declined to allow us to use the video on air but gave permission for us to use what he said.

“Someone told me the judge took money from them,” Banowetz said. “That’s a conflict of interest.” 

News 4 found that Gori, his family and his law firm contributed more than $40,000 to Judge Kyle Anne Napp, the presiding judge for Banowetz’s trial, over the last decade. Gori also paid KMOV for TV advertising in 2012 on behalf of the judge. 

Banowetz told News 4 he is barely speaking to his attorneys, even heading into the trial, which began Monday.

"I should have seen some evidence, maybe work on a defense strategy," Banowetz said. "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."

No change of venue or recusal claim has been raised in the case according to the case docket. 

This afternoon, both the defense attorney and the judge addressed Banowetz's claims on the record in court. They denied there was a conflict of interest and the judge specifically said she worked to ensure every defendant got a fair and impartial trial.

One criminal defense lawyer in the Metro East, though, who spoke to News 4 called the contributions problematic and said they could become an issue on appeal, if Banowetz is convicted. 

Another expert, St. Louis Law Professor Anders Walker, said judges in Illinois are elected and many do accept campaign contributions. He said Banowetz’s defense could raise a conflict issue, but it may not hold up in court because the political donor in this case, Gori, is now deceased.

"I don't think so," Walker said. "I think the judge could say 'look I am going to handle this like every other case, there is no other financial gain moving forward.'" 

Banowetz said all he wants is a fair trial and for the contribution to be brought up in court. 

He would not answer Trager's direct questions about whether he was guilty or not. 

Banowetz told News 4 he was afraid for his safety in jail, adding he's been threatened to keep his mouth shut, particularly about the Gori family.

"If I hurt their reputation in a way, if I say something bad about them that I might know, you know things I may know that they don’t want coming out. And that’s part of, I have been hearing that the whole time I have been in here," Banowetz said. "I am not suicidal anyway, for the record if something happens to me, because I have been getting threats ever since I got here."

Banowetz's interview with News 4 has address at length in court after a jury was seated, and released for the day, Monday afternoon. Napp put a gag order for all parties in the case, meaning no one can speak to the media during the course of the trial. A Banowetz attorney, Mary Copeland, told the room that the defense team had previously disclosed to him that the judge received contributions from Gori and said they told him it would not impact the case because those donations are made through committees so the judges do not see who contributed to them. The attorney also said a change of venue would not mean a change of judge.

Judge Napp then said it is unfortunate that the issue was brought up after she had been questioning potential jurors all day and said whenever a defendant enters her courtroom it is her goal and always has been to ensure a fair and impartial trial, saying it is an "oath that I took and I follow it."

Also Monday, the judge denied News 4’s request to live stream the trial, as requested by the defense and the Gori family. A number of Gori’s family members are on the witness list, as well as Banowetz’s. Some people who knew Banowetz from the pharmacy school he was attending and more than two dozen investigators and police officers are on the list as well.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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