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August 30, 2014

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Binion cases long on drama but out of time

After the hype and headlines of two sensational criminal trials, the courtroom saga over the mysterious 1998 death of casino boss Ted Binion may be ending with a whimper.

District Judge Elizabeth Halverson on Tuesday tossed out two civil lawsuits on a technicality after attorneys for Binion's wealthy estate and the live-in girlfriend who once was convicted of killing him agreed that time had run out to pursue the cases.

Dismissed were the estate's wrongful death suit against the girlfriend, Sandy Murphy, and her secret lover, Rick Tabish, and Murphy's $2 million palimony suit against the estate. Both cases had languished in the courts for eight years, well beyond a Nevada Supreme Court rule that they go to trial within five years.

Left to be considered by Halverson next month is whether time also has run out on Murphy's bid to claim a share of Binion's estate.

"At this point, it's probably in everyone's best interest to part ways," estate attorney Mark Ferrario said before the hearing. "This should bring an end to all matters."

Both sides tried to resolve the legal fight last year, but talks fell apart.

"After 11 rounds of a 12-round match, it looks like a draw, with the final round in probate court," said District Attorney David Roger, who obtained murder convictions in 2000 against Murphy and Tabish that were overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Roger said the move to conclude the case is wise for both sides.

The estate, he explained, could have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to gain a wrongful death judgment against Murphy, but likely wouldn't have been able to collect any money from her.

In court records last year, the media-shy benefactor who bankrolled her defense, 90-year-old William Fuller, claimed she owed him $4.5 million.

Murphy also saved a lot of money by not pressing a palimony suit she likely would have lost, Roger said. In the three years she lived with Binion before his death, he said, she had signed a cohabitation agreement limiting what she was to receive in the event they split.

Her attorney, Herb Sachs, said taxpayers also saved money by not having to foot the bill for another lengthy trial in the wrongful death case, which would have been tantamount to a third murder case.

From the outset, the various courtroom dramas spawned by the 55-year-old Binion's Sept. 17, 1998, death had it all, including allegations of drug abuse, stolen buried treasure, betrayal and a story line that pitted one of the city's most famous families - Binion was the son of legendary Horseshoe Club founder Benny Binion - against the two outsiders accused of killing him.

In the first , nationally watched trial in 2000, Murphy, a former Southern California beauty queen who met Binion while dancing topless, and Tabish, a Montana contractor, were convicted of killing Binion at his Las Vegas home and stealing more than $6 million in silver that he had buried in an underground vault in Pahrump.

Prosecutors contended that Murphy and Tabish, who were involved in a romantic relationship behind Binion's back, pumped the casino executive with drugs and suffocated him to gain access to his wealth.

The Supreme Court reversed the convictions, ruling that prejudicial and hearsay evidence had improperly been introduced in Murphy and Tabish's first trial.

In the 2004 retrial, the jury accepted the defense theory that Binion, a well-known heroin addict who drank heavily, had died of a self-induced drug overdose. The jury acquitted Murphy and Tabish of murder, but convicted them a second time on charges of stealing Binion's silver.

The 35-year-old Murphy spent time in prison between the two trials, but was released shortly after the second one. Tabish is still in prison on a conviction stemming from an assault prosecutors linked to the Binion case and is not eligible for parole until April 2009.

In Halverson's courtroom Tuesday, Murphy and Fuller were on hand to hear the judge dismiss the two civil cases.

After her ruling from the bench, Halverson made a point of telling Murphy she was happy to see her in court.

Although the brunt of the case is over, Murphy is still fighting for her share of Binion's $55 million estate. Halverson scheduled an Aug. 7 hearing on whether her claim is still valid.

Murphy contends that Binion added her to his will two months before he died, giving her the $750,000 home the couple shared, its contents and $300,000 in cash.

The estate, however, argues that Binion cut her out of the will the day before he died and that Murphy is entitled to nothing.

Murphy filed the $2 million palimony suit against the estate in May 1999, just weeks before she and Tabish were arrested and charged with killing Binion.

Binion's chief heir, his then-19-year-old daughter Bonnie, filed a wrongful death suit later that year against Murphy and Tabish, accusing them of carrying on a secret relationship while plotting her father's death.

Eight years after Binion's death, some of the valuables he kept at his home - including a $300,000 collection of antique coins and currency and a bag of rare Carson City-minted silver dollars worth millions of dollars - are still missing.

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