Prosecutors opened the retrial of the "Poker Murder Case" in Las Vegas on Thursday October 14, telling jurors that a former stripper and her secret lover killed WSOP director Ted Binion for a piece of a million-dollar estate and a fortune in buried treasure.
"This case is about betrayal," Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lalli said in his opening statement. "It is about lust. It is about abject greed."
Sandy Murphy, a 32-year-old former stripper, and Rick Tabish, a 39-year-old Montana contractor, were sent to prison for the 1998 death of Ted Binion, who came from a prominent Las Vegas family that owned the famed Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino.
But the defendants are back on trial because the Nevada Supreme Court tossed out their convictions last year. If convicted a second time, the pair could be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors say the suspects forced Binion to ingest lethal levels of heroin and the anti-depressant Xanax before suffocating the 55-year-old casino owner.
Prosecutors say the motive was a piece of Binion's $55 million estate and a cache of more than $5 million in silver bars and coins that Binion had buried in an underground desert vault. Tabish built the vault for Binion.
"The evidence will show that the only way they could live their lives happily ever after was to kill Ted Binion and take his property," Lalli said.
In throwing out the earlier convictions, the state Supreme Court ruled that the judge made a mistake in not forcing prosecutors to try an extortion case against Tabish separately. Justices said the extortion evidence unfairly prejudiced the jury.
During opening statements, a prosecutor painted the pair as desperate lovers who saw Ted Binion as a ticket to riches.
Prosecutor Christopher Lalli described the lavish lifestyle that Murphy was able to lead after moving in with Binion in 1995. From a $90,000 Mercedes to a $10,000 monthly spending cap on her credit card, plus the guarantee that she would gain ownership of the $300,000 home they shared if he died, Binion spared no expense for Murphy.
But in early 1998, Lalli said, Murphy began an affair with Rick Tabish, who owned a trucking company and also worked off and on for Binion.
Tabish, married and the father of two children, and Murphy became more enamored with each other while Binion increasingly abused heroin after Nevada officials rejected his gaming license in 1998.
At the same time, prosecutors contend, Tabish's business concerns were failing miserably — the IRS had a lien on his home and he owed hundreds of thousands in back taxes — and he began to look desperately for a way out.
"It's hard to imagine how much worse things could have got," for Tabish, Lalli told the jury.
While showing jurors graphic photos of Binion's body as it was found in his house the day he died, Lalli alleged that Murphy and Tabish killed Binion by suffocating the 51-year-old man after forcing him to drink a mixture of 12 packages of Mexican black tar heroin and 90 Xanax sleeping pills.
Murphy called authorities on Sept. 17, 1998, and reported that she had found Binion dead from an overdose on the floor of his den.
Fewer than 12 hours after Binion's death, authorities arrested Tabish in the small town of Pahrump while he was attempting to excavate a vault holding $7 million in silver that Binion had contracted him to bury for safekeeping.
Lawyers for Murphy and Tabish stated during their opening statements that the evidence pointing to murder was circumstantial at best and that, in the months preceding his death, Binion's growing heroin use made him an obvious candidate for an early demise.
Defense lawyers tried to negate their client's economic motive for murder.
Prosecutors' first witness was Ted Binion's ex-wife, Doris, who was married to Binion for 15 years and romantically involved with him for 30, she said.
Doris Binion described a loving yet troubled man who hid a quarter of a million dollars in the engine of a motorboat in his garage, always carried a loaded gun, and would stay up all night smoking heroin but sleep in the basement during the day so as not to disturb their daughter.
She broke down in tears several times as she described her former husband's addiction to heroin, his philandering and an incident of physical abuse, which ultimately drove her to leave him.
But she also smiled when asked about her husband's peculiarities, one of which was carrying large sums of money.
"If he had $2,000 cash in his pocket, he thought he was broke," she said.
Week Two: Defense lawyers portrayed Murphy as Binion's devoted girlfriend and Tabish as Binion's good friend.
They acknowledged the two were lovers, but said it was Binion's addiction that pushed the two together. They said Binion was caught in an accelerating cycle of drug abuse brought on by family infighting and the loss of his gambling license a few months before his death.
"He was doing more and more heroin, and he was in the throes of despair," said Tabish's lawyer J. Tony Serra of San Francisco.
Serra suggested that the day before Binion died he discovered Murphy had been cheating on him.
"It hurt him," Serra said. "Maybe she was all that he had left."
Serra cautioned jurors he wasn't suggesting Binion committed suicide, but that Binion was distraught and bought an unusually large amount of heroin.
Serra and Murphy's lawyer Michael Cristalli also dismissed claims the two were motivated by greed.
"This case is not about murder," Cristalli said. "This case is about Ted Binion, a heroin addict for years and years who overdosed."
PokerNews will continue to bring you regular reports of the trial as it happens.