Defense claims Binion overdosed
LAS VEGAS - The splashy New Vegas, the family-fun resort destination with its musical-pirate shows and roller-coaster rides, sometimes seems to have scrubbed this town's past clean.
But on the dirty side streets, and in the corner offices and sprawling ranch homes of power and privilege, the seedy Old Vegas appears to live on - and the murder trial that began here Friday brought back the drugs, mobsters and bar girls that once earned the city its jaded reputation.
The crime is murder of a prominent, multimillionaire scion of Vegas gambling royalty - killed, according to authorities, by having heroin and anti-anxiety pills stuffed down his throat, and then suffocated.
The accused? A pair of reported lovers.
Prosecutors began detailing their case against the former girlfriend of Ted Binion and Rick Tabish, a Missoula contractor, saying the two murdered the former casino executive so they could get his fortune.
"He was murdered for lust, for greed. He was murdered by someone he trusted and her new companion," Chief Deputy District Attorney David Roger said as the trial opened.
But defense attorneys countered in Friday's opening arguments that Murphy was a victim of the powerful Binion family "money machine" and Tabish was just a friend of Binion's who had his best interests at heart.
Murphy, Binion's live-in girlfriend, and Tabish, are charged with killing Binion on Sept. 17, 1998, and stealing valuables from his home. They are also accused of trying to steal about $5 million in silver and coins Binion had buried in a desert vault along a heavily traveled road in Pahrump, Nev.
The prosecution contends Murphy and Tabish forced Binion to ingest a lethal combination of heroin and the prescription drug Xanax. But the two were forced to suffocate Binion when they were interrupted by his gardener.
The defense claims Binion overdosed and, considering his heavy drug use, was lucky to live to the age of 55. They contend the overdose was either a suicide or accidental. Binion had lost his gambling license because of heroin use and associations with an organized crime figure.
In hundreds of pages of pre-trial documents, and Tuesday in the downtown courtroom, Murphy is portrayed as a gold-digging, home-wrecking, foul-mouthed vamp, a 28-year-old former cocktail waitress at a topless lounge who wiggled her way into the gated home and, finally, the Last Will and Testament, of Lonnie Ted Binion.
As Murphy's defense attorneys will no doubt point out, Binion was also a junkie, who smoked tar heroin on and off for almost two decades, popped pills and gave prescription drugs away as tips, who collected rooms - full of silver coins, firearms, and mobsters as his associates - and was believed to be worth $50 million at the time of his death.
As Clark County's Chief Deputy District Attorney David Roger told the nine woman, three man jury Tuesday morning, Murphy conspired to murder Binion with Tabish, 35, a handsome, tall man who ran trucking businesses and gravel and sand mining operations.
Friday, as Tabish and Murphy sat together at the defense table, the prosecutor Roger began his long opening statement by showing the jury a picture of a smiling Ted Binion.
"We're not about to paint a picture of a saint," Roger said.
His friends and family describe Binion as possessing a brilliant mind, a high-stakes poker player with a head for mathematics. But he was also a real hard drinker. An associate of mobster "Herbert 'Fat Herbie' Blitzstein, found shot to death in his Vegas home in January 1997.
According to Binion's ex-wife, Doris Binion, Ted had been using smack for almost two decades.
A creature of habit, Binion often kept as much as a million dollars in cash in his home. He also buried and hid his money and silver coins. Shortly before his death, he hired Rick Tabish to build a vault on his ranch property in Pahrump, Nev., about 60 miles from here, and there they buried in a concrete vault some 46,000 pounds of silver coins and bars-about $6 million worth.
Binion apparently met Murphy at Cheetah's Topless Club, a higher-class strip joint filled with lap dancers on Western Road, a few blocks from the famous Strip. After finding out about the affair, Binion's ex-wife Doris filed for divorce in 1995.
Shortly afterward, Murphy moved into Binion's 8,000-sqaure-foot home on Palomino Lane, within eyeshot of the towering casinos on the Strip.
According to a civil suit, in which Murphy is seeking, as Binion promised in one version of his will, his home and $300,000 in cash, Murphy was hired to maintain the home, cook for Binion and help him entertain.
While he was living with Sandra Murphy, Binion also became associated with Rick Tabish, whom one person described as "a meat and potatoes" blue collar worker originally from Missoula. But Tabish was a man with a hunger to succeed - and to live the high life.
Tabish started a telemarketing firm in Montana, then a trucking business, which he moved to Las Vegas. He hung out at Piero's restaurant here, a fancy watering hole for the city's movers and shakers.
But he was also a two-time felon, convicted of burglary and possession with intent to sell drugs in Montana.
The prosecutor said to jurors that Tabish told several friends and associates he wanted to see Binion dead - and was planning on getting his stash of silver.
According to Tabish's friend, Kurt Gratzer, a former Army Ranger whom he knew in Missoula, Tabish also was having sex with Murphy and discussed with Gratzer the best way to kill Binion.
After Binion's death, Gratzer asked Tabish how Binion died. "Tabish declined to answer the question directly," according to the prosecutor's affidavit. "However, as he drove off, Tabish roared with laughter and yelled out the window, 'Xanax!' "
Murphy and Tabish have denied being lovers. But witnesses, as their stories were related in court documents, say the couple seemed romantically involved. They constantly called each other's cellular telephones. They checked in together, according to witnesses, at the Beverly Hills and Pennisula Hotels in Beverly Hills, the weekend before Binion's death.
When a search warrant was served after the death at Murphy's home, Tabish was sitting on the couch at seven in the morning, his hair rumpled. Murphy was wearing pajamas.
A manicurist at Neiman Marcus told investigators that a week before Binion's death, Sandy Murphy came into the salon, either high on drugs or drunk, and predicted that Binion would be dead of an overdose in three weeks.
On the day before he died, Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones came to the house. Jones was mounting a run for governor. She told investigators that Binion was in good spirits gave her $40,000 in cash as a campaign donation.
That same day, his neighbor and personal physician, Enrique LaCoya, gave Binion another prescription for Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug that Binion used to ease his withdrawal symptoms.
Also, that evening, Peter Sheridan, a dealer who told investigators that he had sold Binion heroin in the past, brought to Binion's home 12 ballons filled with tar heroin. Sheridan said that Binion always smoked the drug, and that tar heroin has a very bitter taste and so junkies do not eat it. Binion paid for the heroin and gave Sheridan a handful of Xanax as a gratuity.
The same day, Ted Binion told his lawyer Jim Brown, "Take Sandy out of the will, if she doesn't kill me tonight. If I am dead, you will know what happened."
Investigators believe that Binion was killed sometime early on Sept. 17, 1998. By whom? Investigators are not sure actually forced the drugs into Binion.
Tabish called Murphy that day at 3:47 p.m. The call lasted one minute, according to phone records. Seven minutes later, Murphy called 911, "My husband has stopped breathing…." Then, the call was disconnected.
Fire Department paramedic Kenneth Dickenson was the first on the scene, and found "an apparently hysterical" Murphy outside the house. Dickenson said that Binion appeared to have been dead for some time.
At first, the authorities were content to consider the death an overdose. But two days after Binion's death, Nye County Sheriff officers found Tabish and two other men digging up Binion's vault of silver in Pahrump at three in the morning. Tabish said that Binion had asked him to get the silver, in the event of his death, and give it to his daughter. But the three men were arrested.
The prosecutor described Tabish as a man desperate for cash - with huge debts coming due and the Internal Revenue Service on his tail.
Shortly after Binion's death, one of attorneys was present as a locksmith drilled open a safe at the Palomino house. On the inside door was a handwritten note, believed to be by Binion's own hand, that included a threat to anyone who might steal the contents of the safe.
The only item found inside was a single dime.