Friday, Oct. 29, 2004 | 9:19 a.m.
Prosecutors attempted to convince jurors Thursday that Sandy Murphy tried to isolate Ted Binion's daughter from her father and that Murphy's greed could be seen in her actions on the day after his death.
James Brown, a lawyer who was a longtime friend of Binion, testified that Murphy was an obstacle to his efforts to "preserve the assets of Binion's estate."
Brown said on the day after the millionaire casino figure died, he took Binion's daughter Bonnie to her father's Las Vegas home so she could retrieve photographs for the funeral.
While Bonnie Binion was going through the home, Murphy arrived. Binion and Murphy had butted heads after Murphy moved in with her father following their meeting at a topless club.
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 so the two are now in the second week of their re-trial on the charges. Defense attorneys contend that Binion died of a drug overdose involving a lethal mixture of heroin, Xanax and Valium.
On that day after Binion's death, Brown said he looked up and when he saw Murphy approaching, he ran to the door and said, "You can't be here. Bonnie's here." Although Murphy initially protested, she left after Brown threatened to call the police.
After collecting several portraits of her father, Bonnie Binion had Brown drive her to her cousin's house down the road. Upon driving past Binion's home on the way back, he saw a police car and stopped.
Brown said he told the officer there "had been a problem with Ted's (Binion's) girlfriend, but is was over." As he finished explaining, Murphy, her attorney William Knudson, as well as her friends Linda Carroll and Tanya Cropp and her mother all arrived at Binion's house.
The officer let Murphy into the house over Brown's objections because Murphy had been living at the house. Brown left the house and received a court order making him the "special administrator of protecting all assets of the estate." Brown said he called Metro Police and told them he had received the court order before he went back to Binion's home.
Brown said upon returning to the home he was able to reach an agreement with Murphy to videotape the contents of the home so the estate would have a complete inventory. Knudson served as cameraman while Brown and Murphy narrated.
The jury watched the video Thursday.
In it, Murphy goes throughout the house telling Knudson to "make sure we get a complete inventory" of everything in the house, from artwork to refrigerator magnets.
"Get all of this (on tape.) This is what they want to steal," an apparently irritated Murphy said.
Murphy moved quickly from room to room opening and slamming shut drawers and cabinets as the camera followed her recording the contents of the home.
"I don't trust anyone anymore," Murphy said. "There is only one person I can trust, my old man, and he's not around anymore."
Murphy told Brown, "I know you don't trust me for whatever reason, and I don't trust you either."
Murphy said she believed several items had already been taken from the house, including her china and $20,000. Brown said it appeared to him she believed "everything (in the house) was hers."
As the footage played, more than one juror glanced over at Murphy and rolled their eyes.
During one point in the tape Murphy appeared to be caught putting an item into her bag and concealing the act from the camera by walking backward. Prosecutors have alleged previously the item is a wine glass that may have been used to mix a drug cocktail to forcefully overdose Binion. Even when played in slow-motion, however, it was not clear exactly what Murphy had done.
In another slow motion snippet, Murphy appeared to be taking an undisclosed item from a drawer. In the courtroom, Murphy, who was watching the tape closely, whispered to her lawyers that she had grabbed the garage door opener.
The most emotional testimony of the trial so far came from Bonnie Binion, who described how her relationship with her father was affected by Murphy's entry into their lives a month after Binion had divorced Bonnie's mother, Doris Binion.
Bonnie Binion said her relationship with Murphy "started out okay, friendly" but before long she started to feel like Murphy was trying to isolate her from her father.
She said Murphy began causing a rift by saying negative things about her mother and moving personal items from her room.
When Bonnie Binion moved into her father's home in the fall of 1995, Murphy would hang up on her when she called, tell her Ted Binion wasn't home and on one occasion told Bonnie that he didn't have a daughter, Bonnie Binion said.
She said she was ultimately forced to write letters to her father to get in touch with him.
She also recalled that once when she went to the house to pick up her father for a trip to his ranch in Pahrump.
"Since I wasn't supposed to go to the door I honked the horn. He came out and she (Murphy) was following, screaming, saying I was trespassing."
Murphy's attorney, Michael Cristalli, questioned whether Bonnie Binion's relationship with Murphy was truly as bad as she was testifying as he reminded her of previous statements she had made regarding it.
Bonnie Binion admitted Murphy often "stuck up for her" when she was arguing with her father. She also said it often seemed like her father "played" her and Murphy against each other by telling Murphy bad things about his daughter and telling his daughter bad things about Murphy.
Bonnie Binion said her last conversation with her father occurred four days before his death. She said they talked for an hour and he was happy she had chosen to go to the University of Colorado. She said was excited to come out and visit because there was "good fishing and hunting there."
Bonnie Binion said it was odd not to find her father's coin collections around the house, and that although he usually kept close to $30,000 in different hiding places around the home, she could find none when she visited the house with Brown.
She said even more surprising was when she saw her father's pants lying in the den where his body was found his pockets contained no money. She said her father regularly carried $10,000 in his pants pocket.
The trial took an unusual turn during an afternoon break, when it appeared a man changing a water cooler in the jury's deliberation room may have been trying to influence the eventual verdict.
District Judge Joseph Bonaventure's bailiff informed the judge while a man was refilling a Sierra Water cooler he overheard him say "guilty." Bonaventure said even though his bailiff told him he didn't think any of the jurors heard the comment it was his responsibility to inform them of the incident.
After conferring with the both Murphy and Tabish's defense lawyers and with the prosecution, it was agreed that a "generic admonishment" to the jury was sufficient.
If something like that happens again, however, Tabish's lead attorney, J. Tony Serra, said it will be grounds for a mistrial.
"If I was cynical, I might say it's part of the Binion money machine," Serra said. "In my entire career I've never heard of something happening like this, Holy God!"
The trial will resume Monday.