Associated Press Attorney says two key prosecution experts had differing opinions
LAS VEGAS - Defense attorneys sought Wednesday to chip away at the credibility and the credentials of an expert witness, using his own words to try to cast doubts on his theory that gambler Ted Binion was murdered.
Forensics pathologist Dr. Michael Baden spent his second day on the witness stand under sometimes harsh cross-examination by defense attorneys brought in solely to question him.
The testimony came midway through the third week in the trial of Binion's live-in girlfriend, Sandra Murphy, and her alleged lover, Missoula contractor Rick Tabish.
Prosecutors contend Binion, a member of a famous casino clan, was forced to ingest a lethal dose of heroin and the prescription anti-depressant Xanax, then smothered on Sept. 17, 1998.
Defense attorneys claim the longtime drug user overdosed on heroin or committed suicide.
Baden contends that marks found around Binion's mouth indicate he was suffocated. Clark County Chief Medical Examiner Larry Simms, who earlier testified for the prosecution, ruled death was caused when Binion was forced to ingest the lethal mix of drugs.
Attorney Rob Murdock, one of two members of the defense brought in specifically to question the expert testimony, challenged Baden's theories. Jotting on an easel, he recorded the differences between Baden's investigation and that of Simms, who conducted the autopsy.
Noting the two key prosecution experts had differing opinions, Murdock asked Baden if he was in disagreement with Simms about Binion's cause of death. Baden agreed.
Murdock then wrote "reasonable doubt" on the easel and, with a dramatic flourish, circled the words.
The jury must decide beyond a reasonable doubt that Murphy and Tabish killed Binion.
Earlier, defense attorney James Shellow attacked Baden's reputation, citing a lawsuit Baden filed after he was demoted as medical examiner by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
Baden said he was demoted because "I wasn't a team player."
Baden said he expressed the belief that medical examiners should help defense attorneys as well and prosecutors in criminal cases, a stand that angered the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
"My contention was that the medical examiner should be just as cooperative with the defense attorney, he should be independent," Baden testified.
He said he lost the lawsuit, but tried Wednesday to put a positive spin on the matter.
"What I thought was a disaster at the time turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me," Baden testified.
Baden said he was later selected as the chief pathologist on the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated the murders of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Baden defended his testimony that Binion's body bore small abrasions and marks on his wrists, which indicated handcuffs or some other type of restraint had been applied shortly before death.
Defense attorneys wrapped up their cross-examination by noting a passage in a book Baden wrote titled "Unnatural Deaths: Confessions of A Medical Examiner."
"Sometimes there is no murder and a man is found guilty of a crime that didn't take place," the passage read.