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Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish Trial: 2000

The Trial Attracts Publicity

During the six-week murder trial, which began March 27, 2000, more than 100 witnesses testified. The courtroom simmered with legal maneuvering: a discordant parade of character witnesses, conflicting testimony over who saw what where, and a dizzying array of physical evidence. (The Binion family had offered generous rewards for information leading to a conviction.) Reporters swarmed the courtroom, passing on every bizarre turn of the trial to an eager public.

But the real theatrics that caused television ratings to soar took place outside the courtroom. Binion's sister went on the television show 20/20 to declare that Murphy and Tabish murdered her brother. Defense lawyers John Momot and Louis Palazzo made regular appearances on national television shows, spinning the case as a good-versus-evil drama: the bullying Binion money machine versus the kind, loving girlfriend, twice raped as a teen. The defense also hired a public relations team, which ran unprecedented television ads soliciting public input. The team then publicized the poll results (more thought the defendants innocent than before the trial began), and backed a tacky public seance. As cameras rolled, 11 psychics tried to contact Binion. Did he take his life or was he murdered? Binion did not respond.

Although presiding Judge Joseph Bonaventure did issue a gag order during the trial, he never sequestered the jury. He said he wanted to save taxpayer money in the $7,400-per-day trial.

Despite unprecedented publicity, the trial ultimately turned on the conflicting testimony of the famous and handsomely compensated medical experts. The jury evidently believed Baden. Jurors deliberated eight days before finding both Murphy and Tabish guilty of first-degree murder, on May 18, 2000. They were sentenced to life with the possibility of parole—for Murphy after serving a minimum of 22 years and for Tabish after 25 years.

In a companion case that unfolded during the Binion murder saga, Tabish's alleged accomplice David Mattsen and his business partner Michael Milot were tried and sentenced on charges of burglary, grand larceny, and conspiracy in the theft of the silver bars that Binion had buried. (Authorities had arrested Mattsen and Milot as they helped Tabish unearth the loot.)

Two other men, Steven Wadkins and John B. Joseph, eventually pleaded no contest to charges of conspiring to commit extortion, which stemmed from their assisting Tabish in torturing the owner of a sand pit tied to Tabish's contracting business to force the man to turn over his interest in the pit. They were sentenced to 200 hours community service or $2,000 fines.

Also, David Mattsen was found not guilty in federal court on 11 unrelated firearms charges a month before the Murphy-Tabish trial began.

Ruling on the appeal of the contested will, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled on October 9, 2000, that Binion had legally cut Murphy out of his will the day before he died.

The final roll of dice in this Las Vegas-style trial has yet to take place. On October 12, 2000 the defense team filed notice of appeal. It is expected that the Nevada Supreme Court will not act on the murder case before 2002.

B. J. Welborn

Suggestions for Further Reading

Barandes, Laura. "Binion Jurors Hand Down Life with Possibility of Parole." Court TV Online (May 24, 2000).

German, Jeff. "Analysis: Binion Murder Case Being Fought on Five Fronts." Las Vegas Sun Online (October 14, 1999).

German, Jeff. "Sides Are Ready for Long-Awaited Start of Binion Murder Case." Las Vegas Sun Online (March 30, 2000).

Macy, Robert. "Jury Finds Pair Guilty in Death of Well-Known Gambler." Associated Press Online (May 19, 2000).

Smith, Kim. "Judge Gavels an End to Ted Binion Murder Trail." Las Vegas Sun Online (October 6, 2000).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentSandy Murphy and Rick Tabish Trial: 2000 - Sandy Murphy Becomes A Suspect, The Trial Attracts Publicity, Suggestions For Further Reading