LA Times

Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish Murder Convictions Voided
* The pair were convicted three years ago of killing former Las Vegas casino executive Ted Binion. A new trial is ordered.

July 14, 2003
By Marisa Lagos, Times Staff Writer

The murder convictions of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish were overturned today when a divided Nevada Supreme Court found fault with the trial that sent the two to jail for drugging and killing former Las Vegas casino executive Ted Binion.

Sandy Murphy, a topless dancer, and Rick Tabish, a trucking contractor, were convicted three years ago of drugging and then suffocating Binion in a conspiracy to loot the $50-million estate of the onetime Horseshoe Casino executive. His family still owns the establishment.

Prosecutors said Murphy two-timed Binion with Tabish, then plotted with him to steal Binion's $8-million fortune of silver hidden in an underground vault in the Nevada desert.

The court ruled 4-3 that Murphy and Tabish should face a new trial on the counts of murder, robbery, burglary and larceny that they were convicted of on May 19, 2000.

The majority opinion upheld the conviction against Tabish for the July, 1998 kidnapping, beating and extortion of Leo Casey, which was tried with the Binion murder case. Tabish wanted Casey to give up his interest in a gravel pit the two owned in Jean, Nevada, prosecutors said.

In the 4-3 decision, Justice Bob Rose wrote that the reversal of the convictions was warranted by several facts, including that the trial judge did not separate the counts related to Casey from the other charges.

The prosecution had argued that the Casey counts were relevant in establishing a motive for killing Binion — that Tabish wanted his money in order to keep the gravel pit afloat. The state maintains this rationale, Clark County Dist. Atty. Dave Roger said.

"Obviously, we are disappointed with the court's decision to reverse the conviction, but we will retry the defendants at the earliest opportunity," Roger said. "Our strategy during the first trial was obviously successful — 12 jurors felt we had met the burden of proof."

In the decision, Rose wrote that while there were similarities between the two victims and their deaths, "money and greed could be alleged as connections between a great many crimes and thus do not alone sufficiently connect the incidents."

The court additionally found that joining the two murder cases was "especially prejudicial" in Murphy's case.

The justices also wrote that the inclusion of testimony from one of Binion's estate attorneys without proper limiting instructions to the jury compromised the case.

Attorney James Brown said in court that Binion called him the night before his death and said, "Take Sandy out of the will if she doesn't kill me tonight. If I'm dead you'll know what happened."

Murphy has always maintained her innocence. Herbert Sachs, one of her attorneys, said today that he would file a bail motion for his client "as soon as I possibly can."

Tabish will not be eligible for bail because of his convictions in the Casey case.

"We're very happy, because [the Supreme Court's decision] gives us the opportunity to present new information to the jury," Sachs said. "We're confident that when the jury hears all of the evidence, justice will finally prevail and Sandy will be acquitted."

The case attracted national attention and captivated Las Vegas as the story of greed, drugs and sex began to unravel after Binion's death on Sept. 17, 1998. That afternoon, an apparently hysterical Murphy called 911 to report her live-in boyfriend's death. At first, it was assumed that Binion, well known as a heroin addict, had overdosed, a theory the defense argued for during the trial.

Tabish was arrested 48 hours later, when he went to clear the vault Binion hired him to build only months before. At the trial, one of Binion's lawyers testified that Binion had told Tabish to remove the fortune in the event of his death.

During the seven-week trial, several medical experts testified that Binion had died from an overdose of heroin, Xanax and Valium. Another expert said he was suffocated.

The trial came to an end in May 2000, after jurors spent almost 68 hours deliberating. Tabish was sentenced to at least 25 years in jail, while Murphy received a minimum 22-year sentence.

Justice Miriam Shearing and Justice Bill Maupin filed dissents against the majority opinion. Shearing said she agreed that the murder and robbery charges should be reversed, but would have upheld the other counts, while Maupin — along with Justice Myron Leavitt, who agreed with his dissent — said he would have upheld all the convictions.

Roger said the new trial should begin within a few months, and that the state does expect to be able to seat a jury in Clark County, where the murder and first trial took place.

Learn more about this case at Desert Justice

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