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Jury Finds Couple Guilty of Killing

May 20, 2000 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The death of casino heir Ted Binion was surrounded by a tangled web of lust, drug addiction and buried treasure. But a jury ultimately unraveled the mystery, convicting the well-known gambler’s live-in girlfriend and her new lover.

Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish were found guilty Friday of first-degree murder and other charges and could face life in prison without parole. The sentencing phase was to begin Tuesday.

Defense attorneys, who had argued that the 55-year-old son of casino legend Benny Binion died of an accidental drug overdose or committed suicide, vowed to appeal.

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``This fight’s not over by a long shot,″ said John Momot, Murphy’s attorney.

The twisted story began Sept. 17, 1998, when Binion was found dead in his home. Witnesses said Murphy, 28, discovered the body after returning from lunch at a posh restaurant near their home.

Many figured Binion had succumbed to his longtime heroin habit. An empty bottle of the prescription sedative Xanax, which Binion often took to help wean himself off heroin, was found next to the body.

It looked like an overdose and the coroner agreed, although he ruled the manner of death was undetermined.

In her share of Binion’s $55 million will, Murphy stood to inherit Binion’s $900,000 home, its contents, $300,000 in cash, and proceeds from a $1 million life insurance policy.

The two seemed an unlikely pair. They had met in 1995 in a strip joint where Murphy was working as a dancer.

She moved into Binion’s home. He gave her a Mercedes and unlimited use of his credit cards.

Murphy put up with Binion’s heroin addiction. He had been kicked out of the family business for his drug use and for consorting with a mob figure.

Tabish, 35, a friend of Binion’s, was a contractor and a married father of two from Missoula, Mont. He soon was introduced to Murphy.

Prosecutors say the two began a secret love affair in early 1998 _ jetting off to Beverly Hills, Calif., spending time in Montana _ and Binion ordered her out of his will when he learned of it.

The night before he died, his attorney claims Binion called him and said: ``Take Sandy out of the will, if she doesn’t kill me tonight.″

Murphy won the right to her share of the Binion estate, however, when a judge ruled that Binion had to be present and sign a new will before it could take legally effect. That decision is on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Prosecutors say Tabish was having money problems. He owed back taxes and had failing businesses. They say he and Murphy plotted to kill Binion _ making it look like an overdose _ so they could steal his considerable valuables.

Two days after Binion’s death, Tabish was caught digging up $7 million in silver the gambler had buried in Pahrump, Nev. He claimed he was carrying out Binion’s last wishes.

Authorities suspected otherwise. So did his sister, Becky Behnen, who owns the family’s downtown casino, Binion’s Horseshoe Club. She and Binion’s estate hired a private investigator and pressured police to treat the case as a homicide.

``Would he have taken the fatal dose?″ she said before the trial. ``Absolutely not. He was the eternal optimist.″

Six months after Binion was found dead, the county coroner ruled the death a homicide, and Murphy and Tabish were arrested in June 1999. He was jailed, and she was out on house arrest because a wealthy Irishman paid her $300,000 bail.

The prosecution’s case was mostly circumstantial. Medical experts offered conflicting theories _ one said suffocation, one said overdose.

In the end, the jury didn’t accept the defense’s argument.

In an overflow room at the courthouse where spectators watched the verdict on television, cheers erupted when the verdicts were read.

``They were bad people,″ Binion’s nephew, Bobby Fechser said Friday. ``I knew from day one there was something foul.″