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Gratzer says he has received death threats

LAS VEGAS - A Missoula man who says accused killer Rick Tabish offered him money to help kill a Las Vegas casino executive testified Tuesday that the pair discussed using a powerful mixture of drugs.

Kurt Gratzer, a childhood friend of Tabish, said he has "received many death threats" from residents of Missoula since making the accusation.

Defense attorneys sought to destroy Gratzer's credibility, suggesting the former Army ranger was an opportunist seeking reward money and a book contract in the death of gambling figure Ted Binion.

Gratzer is considered a key witness in the government's effort to convict Tabish, a Missoula contractor, and girlfriend Sandra Murphy on charges of killing Binion on Sept. 17, 1998.

Gratzer testified that Tabish, his former employer at a Missoula telemarketing firm, offered him "a minimum of $100,000, a maximum of $3 million" to help concoct a scheme to kill Binion.

Prosecutors contend Binion planned to cut Murphy, his live-in girlfriend, out of his will after learning she was cheating on him.

Gratzer said he and Tabish discussed shooting Binion in the head with one of the many guns Binion stashed in his home, or jumping out of a helicopter and shooting Binion at his Nevada ranch, "G.I. Joe style."

The third option, Gratzer said, would be to force Binion to ingest a lethal dose of heroin and the prescription anti-depressant Xanax. He suggested the lethal cocktail be forced down the victim's throat with a stick.

Prosecutors say Binion died from a fatal dose of heroin and Xanax, and was suffocated.

Defense attorneys say Binion, a known drug user for years, was the victim of an accidental overdose or committed suicide.

Gratzer said he was approached by Tabish in late August 1998 seeking suggestions on how to kill someone. Gratzer said he consulted a Missoula pharmacist to determine the lethal dosage of heroin and Xanax, and relayed the information to Tabish.

Gratzer said Tabish told him he wanted to kill a Las Vegas casino executive named Ted because the man had refused to pay a $13,000 debt.

"Rick was extremely upset the man didn't want to pay him," Gratzer testified. "He said the man was heavily involved in drugs and was just going downhill."

He said he did not follow through with Tabish.

"I figured Rick was not going to do anything," Gratzer testified. "He said he wasn't."

Gratzer said he learned a day or two after Binion's death that a Las Vegas casino executive had died of a drug overdose.

Gratzer said he met Tabish, his wife, Mary Jo, their two children, and Murphy in a Missoula hair salon the month after Binion's death.

He said he told Tabish, "You crazy … you actually did it, didn't you?"

Gratzer said he then asked what he could do to support Tabish's story.

The witness acknowledged he had five driving under the influence arrests on his record and had been granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony in the Binion murder case.

Tabish attorney Louis Palazzo sought to chip away at Gratzer's credibility, citing a checkered military career.

Gratzer admitted he was discharged midway through a four-year tour of duty. He said he couldn't fit in with the military because he was a 32-year-old man who didn't fit in with 18-year-olds "who had no ambition other than to go to war and kill people. I knew I was in the wrong place."

Under cross-examination Gratzer said he had been ostracized in his hometown where he and Tabish were raised.

"There's been a lot of peer pressure in Missoula to help him get off," Gratzer testified. "People won't hire me in Missoula. I've received many death threats.

"From the time I was a little boy I was told not to rat on my buddies," Gratzer added.

Asked by Palazzo if he was "ratting" on his longtime friend, Gratzer said "I felt like it's being perceived that way."

"Did the reward money ease your mind?" Palazzo asked.

"I haven't had any indication I would receive any reward money," Gratzer responded.

In other testimony Tuesday, Natalie Vogt, a former front desk agent at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., reviewed records which showed two people registered as Mr. and Mrs. Rick Tabish stayed at the hotel Sept. 11-14, 1998 in a suite that cost $825 a night. One of the bills was signed "S.M. Tabish." Two people registering as Mr. and Mrs. Richard Tabish also stayed at the hotel Oct. 26-27, 1998.

Also, Jerry Keenan, an Oregon man who had been in the jewelry business with Binion said Murphy called him in early August 1998 and told him Binion was back on heroin.

"He's killing himself,' " Murphy told Keenan.

Keenan said Murphy was displeased she would not receive more than $1 million from Binion's estate.

Under Binion's will, Murphy is to receive his home, its furnishings and $300,000 in cash. The will has been challenged by the Binion estate in a civil court action that is before the Nevada Supreme Court.

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