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October 22, 2014

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Lawyer recounts why he cut Murphy out of will

A longtime lawyer for Ted Binion testified Wednesday that he took one of Binion's alleged killers, Sandy Murphy, out of Binion's will after receiving a phone call from Binion the day before his death.

In July 1998 the millionaire casino figure had added Murphy to his will, and she had stood to gain Binion's Las Vegas home, its contents and $300,000. But James Brown, the same man who made that addition to the will, said that based on a Sept. 16, 1998, phone call from Binion, he took Murphy out of the will on the morning of Binion's death, Sept. 17, 1998.

Because of a pre-trial ruling by District Judge Joseph Bonaventure, Brown was not allowed to testify in detail about the substance of that final conversation with his friend Binion.

In 2000 Murphy and her lover, Rick Tabish, were convicted of murdering Binion and were sentenced to life in prison, but the Nevada Supreme Court later overturned the convictions. Defense attorneys contend that Binion died of a drug overdose involving a lethal mixture of heroin, Xanax and Valium.

In the first trial Brown had testified that Binion called him the day before his death saying "take Sandy (Murphy) out of the will ... if she doesn't kill me tonight. If I'm dead, you'll know what happened." Bonaventure ruled the statement was inadmissible for the second trial because allowing it would, in essence, allow "Binion to speak from the grave."

On Wednesday, Brown did testify that even though Murphy was taken out of the will, Binion had also signed a co-habitation agreement with her that allowed her to keep the Mercedes Benz that Binion had given her as well as about $900,000 in stock for the Rio resort.

Brown, who said he had become friends with Binion when they were both teens in 1957, is scheduled to continue his testimony this morning.

Earlier on Wednesday several witnesses testified that they had been skeptical about Murphy's grieving immediately after Binion was declared dead.

Monica Manig, a paramedic who arrived at Binion's home the day of his death, said Murphy "seemed very upset, even hysterical" when she arrived at the scene at the request of Metro police.

Manig said she and another paramedic placed Murphy, who identified herself as Sandra Murphy Binion, on a gurney and wheeled her out of the home to take her to Valley Hospital. As they were leaving the home, Manig said Murphy, who she believed was "genuinely upset," pulled a sheet over her head and in broken speech said "they weren't going to let her back in the house."

But a registered nurse who tended to Murphy upon her arrival at Valley Hospital and a nurse who observed her later in her stay said they thought Murphy was acting bereaved -- over-acting.

Lawrence Krev, a registered nurse, said Murphy was "crying on the gurney and making a lot of noise" when he witnessed her arrival. He said she seemed "almost theatrical" as he obtained her name, age, and medical history.

Krev said while he was taking Murphy's vital information a detective was attempting to ask her questions. He said Murphy wouldn't answer the questions and as he left the room he turned to the detective and said, "Boy. A little over-dramatic, ay?"

Tabish's attorney, Joseph Caramagno, pressed Krev into conceding, however, that Murphy's blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate were all above normal. Caramagno asked Krev if it would be possible for anyone to "fake their heart rate." Krev said he didn't think so.

Caramagno asked Krev if panic or fright were symptoms consistent with someone who just found the body of someone they lived with as husband and wife for three years. Krev said they were.

Kathleen Fox, a nurse working at the emergency room of Valley Hospital, testified that she, too, thought Murphy's grief was theatrical. She said she saw Murphy lying in bed "crying very loud" with the sheets pulled over her head. Fox said the crying seemed forced, especially when Murphy began making loud "boo-hoo" sounds. Fox said it took a lot of effort to be as loud as Murphy was.

Janice Tanno, a friend of Binion and Murphy, said after hearing of Binion's death and seeing Murphy being carried away from the scene on the gurney, she quickly located Murphy at Valley Hospital and went to see her "because she didn't have any family" in Las Vegas.

Tanno said when she visited Murphy at the hospital "she was still hysterical" and said "I don't want to hurt Teddy."

Tanno said she met Tabish for the first time while at the hospital. She said Tabish told her he had heard of Binion's death on the news and came to the hospital to "help Sandy."

After talking to a crisis counselor at the hospital Tanno had Murphy brought to her home for the night. She said Murphy was "still upset and exhausted" when they arrived at Tanno's home where Murphy had lunch with Tabish and an attorney that afternoon.

Tanno said after returning home from morning church services the next day she found Murphy and Tabish eating breakfast in Tanno's pool cabana. Tabish then asked Tanno if he could take Murphy for a drive.

Tanno said roughly 15 minutes later Murphy returned to the house and made telephone calls to Brown and Binion's personal secretary, Kathy Rose.

She said Murphy was "pretty adamant" during her call with Brown. She said Murphy told Brown "Teddy said the house was hers." She said Murphy called Rose to find out about Binion's funeral arrangements and took the position that "she was part of the family and wanted to be involved."

The bulk of the testimony heard Wednesday afternoon dealt with what was observed and recovered from the crime scene at Binion's home.

Metro Police Crime Scene Analyst Michael Perkins, who arrived on the scene the day of Binion's death, said upon arrival he was looking for evidence of any forced entry into the home. His search resulted in finding Murphy's bathroom window open with a chair sitting below it on the outside of the house.

Metro Police Latent Print Examiner Ed Guenther testified to finding Murphy's fingerprint on the exterior pane of the open bathroom window. Guenther, however, was unable to find Murphy or Tabish's prints on the bottle of Xanax, three lighters or a pack of cigarettes found next to Binion's body.

Perkins said although no other Halloween decorations were displayed at the Binion home, a glow-in-the-dark RIP sign was hanging from one of the coach lights at the front door of the home.

Outside the presence of the jury on Wednesday the prosecution argued the RIP decoration was "some sort of sick signature" for the murder. Attorneys for Tabish and Murphy said there is no evidence to support their clients had anything to do with Binion's death or the hanging of the sign.

Perkins said when he found Binion's body lying on a mat in the den it was covered by a quilt. Upon taking it off the body he noticed an abrasion on Binion's knee and although he never filed it in his report he said he did notice redness around Binion's mouth.

Whether or not there was redness around Binion's mouth was a contentious issue a day earlier as attorneys for Murphy and Tabish tried to discredit the prosecution's key medical witness, Dr. Michael Baden. Baden testified the redness around Binion's mouth was caused by abrasions inflicted by someone trying to cover or rub against his mouth at the time of death. The defense contends the marks were simply dermatitis.

Perkins said one discovery he made that has remained a mystery was the appearance of a pattern of "drip marks" that began at the doorway to Binion's den and led straight to where his body was discovered.

Perkins said after examining the body he went into the bathroom adjacent to the den where a folding pocket-knife, a smooth piece of aluminum foil, wadded up pieces of foil and pieces of red and pink balloon were found. He said heroin residue was later found on the knife

In previous testimony it has been determined Binion purchased heroin in colored balloons and his method of choice for using the drug was "chasing the dragon." That involves rubbing a lump of black-tar heroin onto a piece of aluminum foil then heating it with a lighter so that the fumes can be inhaled.

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