Defense Strategy #2:
Counter Every Prosecution Expert Witness with Your Own (Continued)
The Second Ted Binion Murder Trial (Continued)
Ted Binion’s Adult Life Before Meeting Sandy Murphy -- Ted’s Wild Early Years
In October 1957, Benny Binion emerged from his 42-month stint in federal prison for tax evasion. He was just in time for Teddy’s 14th birthday. Unfortunately, by that point, Teddy had already started using drugs and drinking alcohol on a daily basis – no doubt spurned by his beloved father’s long absence during Teddy’s formative years, as well as Benny’s emotional abandonment of him when Teddy was a young boy.
A decade later, in December 1967, when Ted was 24 years old, someone tipped off Benny that there was a plot brewing among several local crooks to kidnap and ransom Ted, who by this point had allegedly gotten involved in large-scale drug trafficking.
In fact, one of his close friends was reportedly Texas marijuana kingpin, “Dixie Mafia” ringleader, and high-rolling gambler Jamiel “Jimmy” Chagra. The latter would later hire actor Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Voyde Harrelson, to murder federal judge John H. Wood, in May 1979. Chagra was concerned that “Maximum John”, as he was known for his draconian sentences, would give him life in Chagra’s drug trafficking trial. See encyclopedia.com.
In any event, Benny learned that the chief plotter was Ted’s good buddy, Marvin Shumate. A few days later, Shumate’s corpse was located at Sunrise Mountain, east of Sin City. He had been machine-gunned to death, and while the FBI and police suspected Binion, they could never pin this (or any other murder in Nevada on him. See mayheminthedesert.com.
The World Series of Poker Doesn’t Stop Benny from Allegedly Doin’ His "Own Damn Killin’"
In 1970, when Teddy was twenty-six, Benny would introduce the World Series of Poker and popularize Texas Hold ‘Em to the entire planet. As a result, the gaming world’s attention shifted to the Horseshoe as the preeminent place for serious poker players, particularly after the annual competition became nationally televised. As a result, the Binion family’s coffers overflowed. See wsop.com.
Benny’s windfall didn’t stop him from being the Cowboy. Specifically, during the summer of 1972 (when Ted was 29), Benny’s lease on his beloved Horseshoe Casino and Hotel was set to expire. The majority owner of the actual lot, William Coulthard, was an ex-FBI agent and Nevada assemblyman who was now a real estate attorney. He was also unbelievably reckless in trying to drastically raise Benny’s rent during negotiations for a new lease.
On July 25, 1972, Coulthard left his downtown office, rode an elevator up to the next-door garage, and slid behind the wheel of his Cadillac. He fired up the engine, which ignited almost half-a-dozen dynamite sticks under the steering column. The huge explosion vaporized him. The FBI was also certain Binion had ordered this murder as well but, again, could never prove it. See LasVegasSun.com.
Ted Enjoys the Perks of Being a Gangster’s Son
None of this carnage seemed to bother Ted, who, by all accounts, reveled in his father’s (and his own) notoriety. Indeed, Ted himself was caught up in a few scandals and was strongly suspected by police of having possibly been involved in at least one drug-related murder. But Benny’s fix with the local sheriff’s department and the metropolitan police department prevented any legal problems. See TexasMonthly.com.
Benny’s bloody reputation continued to grow in his golden years. In January 1980, a non-fiction book entitled THE LAST MAFIOSO: The Treacherous World of Jimmy "the Weasel" Fratianno by true-crime writer Ovid Demaris was published and became an instant best seller.
Fratianno, who had been the Los Angeles Mafia Family’s acting boss prior to him flipping in 1977, told both DeMaris and the FBI that in 1953, Benny had hired him to murder (via strangulation) a business associate named Louis “Russian Louie” Strauss, who had been attempting to extort money from Benny. See amazon.com/Last-Mafioso.
Although Benny was never arrested for the murder conspiracy, his big mouth cost him plenty when questioned by a newspaper reporter about Fratianno’s claim. In denying that he had hired the Weasel, Benny infamously said, “Those FBIs know I can do my own damn killin’.”
However, if Binion had been charged in California for this alleged contract killing, he would have likely been prosecuted under the following Penal Code violations:
- First-Degree Murder with Special Circumstances/Capital Murder (Murder for Hire) at California Penal Code section 190.2;
- First-Degree Murder (in general) at California Penal Code section 187(a), California Penal Code section 188, & California Penal Code section 190; and
- Conspiracy to Commit Murder at California Penal Code section 189(e).
Finally, according to Fratianno (whom both the FBI and LAPD had suspected of murdering over a dozen mobsters, and who admitted to personally killing approximately half-a-dozen), Binion had him strangle Strauss in order to protect Binion's criminal syndicate. As a result, Binion could arguably have been alternatively prosecuted for a different type of special-circumstances murder -- specifically, murder committed for the benefit of a criminal gang under California Penal Code section 186.22.
Benny’s Past Finally Catches Up with Him
This flippant response ultimately led to the Nevada Gaming Commission (“NGC”) forcing Benny to sell off his ownership shares in his beloved Horseshoe. At that point, his oldest son and next-oldest son, Jack and Ted, took control of the Horseshoe’s daily operations, serving as president and casino manager, respectively.
Indeed, Ted took an increasingly more public role and essentially became the face of the Horseshoe, particularly during its annual World Series of Poker tournament – a role he cherished, not least because it came with major perks, including hobnobbing with celebrities and beautiful women.
Not unlike the “Ace” Rothstein character (played by Robert DeNiro) in the 1995 film Casino – based on the real-life Vegas impresario Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal – over the next twelve years (until his death in 1989 – see below), Benny frequently changed job titles, such as consultant, food and beverage director, social relations manager, etc. See AustinChronicle.com.
Benny’s eldest child, Barbara, undoubtedly was troubled by growing up with a gangster father. Like her younger brother Ted, she too was a do-or-die drug addict, and ultimately committed suicide in 1983 when Ted was thirty-nine.
Ted’s Good Times Begin Coming to a Halt
Three years later in 1986, Ted’s miserable, twelve-year-long slide into the abyss began when he was arrested for drug trafficking. That, along with his notorious friendship with local mobsters like Herbert "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein, drew the ire of the NGC.
That year also proved to be the beginning of the end for Blitzstein, as a result of his Mafia protector, 5’2” Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro – played by Joe Pesci in Casino – being murdered by his pals in Chicago on June 14, 1986.
Less than eleven years later, on January 6, 1997, Blitzstein himself would be murdered in his Vegas condo by two associates from the LA Mafia Family, which wanted to take over his various criminal rackets, including loansharking.
Only one month earlier, the NGC had placed Blitzstein in the fabled “Black Book”, which banned him from entering any Nevada casino – a dubious distinction he briefly shared with Spilotro. As far as I know, Blitzstein’s was the last Mafia murder to take place in Sin City. See LATimes.com.
In any event, a year later in 1987, Ted pled guilty to a reduced felony for possession with intent to distribute with no jail time, but it was the beginning of the end for his casino license.
In our state, Ted would have accepted a guilty plea to California Health and Safety Code section 11351, Possession for Sale of a Controlled Substance (aka Possession with Intent to Distribute).
That same year, Benny celebrated his 83rd birthday with more than 18,000 locals attending in a Vegas stadium, as well as numerous celebrities, including famous country-music singers Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr. It was no doubt the high point of the Cowboy’s life, and probably Ted’s as well. See historynet.com.
Benny Beats the Odds By Dying a Natural Death
But that event did nothing to impede Ted’s precipitous self-destructive descent, which hit its penultimate low point thirteen months later when eighty-five-year-old Benny died of natural causes on Christmas Day in 1989. The Cowboy may not have been much of a father to Ted, then forty-six, but he was certainly his closest friend. As a result, Ted’s drug use escalated unabated. See NYTimes.com.
The Binions’ Racism Rears Its Ugly Collective Head
But don’t feel too bad for Benny or even Ted for that matter – both were virulent racists who utterly despised Black people, particularly those who had the audacity to gamble and win at the Horseshoe.
Since at least 1977, whenever a Black man gambled and won thousands of dollars there, good ol’ boy Ted would have the casino’s knuckle-dragging, bull-necked security guards follow the winner outside, beat the living crap out of him, strip him of his winnings, and warn him that if he called the police, he would be killed. (Maybe this is why Hollywood hasn’t come calling?)
And for those naïve and foolish enough to actually call the police, the local sheriff’s deputies or Metro police officers – most of whom were reportedly on Benny’s payroll – would simply tell the victims to leave town and never return.
This horrendous business practice continued unabated until April 1990, when – after a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the US Attorney’s Office – Ted, his equally-racist nephew Steven Binion Fescher, and half-a-dozen security guards were indicted on federal charges for violating the victims’ civil rights by kidnapping, robbing, and beating them, as well as for conspiracy, over a nine-year period (1977 though 1986).
Under our state criminal law, these defendants would have been prosecuted for the following Penal Code violations:
- Aggravated Kidnapping (to commit Robbery) at California Penal Code section 209(b);
- Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury (Aggravated Battery) at California Penal Code section 243(d);
- Robbery at California Penal Code section 211;
- Grand Theft at California Penal Code section 487; and
- Conspiracy to Commit Grand Theft at California Penal Code section 182.
And, of course, the defendants would also have been charged with committing a Hate Crime under California Penal Code section 422.6.
This was a time when the Binion family was netting at least $60 million a year in profit. The indictment identified eleven Black men as victims, two of whom settled a civil suit against the Horseshoe for almost $800,000.
Indeed, more than two years earlier, in January 1988, Fescher and two of the indicted security guards had been convicted by a Las Vegas jury in state court of these same crimes. Incredibly (or perhaps not), however, the presiding judge – a good ol’ boy named Thomas Foley, a longtime friend of the Binions – took it upon himself to overturn the convictions.
It remains unclear what ultimately happened with the federal indictments, unfortunately, as I couldn’t find anything online about whether Ted was convicted or not. See LATimes.com.
On January 13, 1994, Ted’s mother, seventy-seven-year-old Teddy Jane, died (of natural causes), having outlasted her husband by half-a-decade. As always, Ted turned to his favorite drugs – marijuana, black-tar heroin, and Xanax to dull the pain. See pokerlistings.com. See also LATimes.com.
Ted Binion’s Life After Meeting Sandy Murphy -- The Fateful Meeting of the Star-Crossed Lovers
In February 1994 – one month after his mother’s death -- now-fifty-year-old Ted was engaging in what had virtually become a nightly routine: hitting Vegas strip clubs, tossing back shots of whiskey, hopefully scoring phone numbers and future dates from the exotic dancers therein, then heading home to chase the dragon (hopefully with one or more said dancers).
So that particular night – right around Valentine’s Day – Ted’s life would be drastically altered as a result of meeting Sandra “Sandy” Murphy (twenty-two) at the (in)famous topless club Cheetahs. According to Murphy in all subsequent interviews she gave, she had just arrived in town several days before from Orange County, California. She claims she blew almost $13,000 in cash – apparently her life savings – playing blackjack at the local casinos.
In a desperate attempt to get out of the red, Murphy claims she began selling lingerie to exotic dancers at these Vegas topless lounges, including at Cheetahs. Every major periodical in the country, however, reported that she had been an exotic dancer there.
“Happy Days Are Here Again” as Murphy Embeds Herself in Ted’s World
Despite their twenty-seven-year age difference, Ted and Sandy immediately hit it off, fell madly in love with one another, and quickly became a live-in couple. Ted showered her with expensive gifts, such as high-end jewelry, designer clothes, credit cards, and even a new Mercedes sports car.
And, of course, they hit all the hottest nightclubs and restaurants – they were the Vegas version of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Ted loved that she partied almost as hard as he did, although her favorite poison was admittedly cocaine (she was, after all, from a younger generation). See forbes.com.
These were heady days for Murphy, who grew up in blue-collar Downey with a repo-man father and housewife mother. Prior to meeting Ted, the high point of her life had occurred five years earlier when she placed second at the “Miss Bellflower” beauty competition. She was seventeen at the time, which is also when she dropped out of high school.
But not all was well in Camelot, as mutual friends would testify at Murphy’s two murder trials. Specifically, from time to time, they alleged that Ted would physically abuse her, leaving visible injuries.
In any event, Murphy was allegedly Ted’s partner in other contexts. For example, the NGC suspected that he had been using her as a bagman to ferry cash dividends from the Horseshoe to him, since by that point he had been prohibited from even setting foot in the casino’s parking lot.
I forgot to mention that Ted had been married at the time he met Murphy, though he had been estranged from her and their young daughter. But his white-hot relationship with Murphy reportedly caused his wife to move with her daughter to a faraway state. See LasVegasSun.com.
Ted’s Casino License is Permanently Revoked
Two years after meeting Murphy, Ted’s decade-long troubles with the NGC began slowly reaching its end. Specifically, in 1996, Ted’s casino license was temporarily suspended, thereby not only preventing him from assuming any managerial position, but outright banning him from the Horseshoe premises. He was also required to submit to regular random drug testing, which I can’t imagine went well for him.
But Ted just couldn’t stay away from the Horseshoe, which, now that his father was long gone, had been his only source of status and prestige (but at least he was still raking in millions each year). As a result, in May 1997, the NGC placed his casino license on an indefinite suspension while proceedings commenced to permanently revoke it. (Like father, like son.)
And that’s exactly what happened ten months later – in March 1998 – when he permanently lost his gaming license. To this date, Ted is the only casino operator in the history of Nevada whose license was revoked for consorting with known criminals.
This plunged Ted into the worst depression of his life, and even healthy doses of black tar couldn’t chase away his doom and gloom. Nor could Murphy, who essentially became his live-in caretaker and round-the-clock nurse. See reviewjournal.com.
Ted was thereafter forced to sell his twenty-percent ownership in the Horseshoe, which garnered him many millions of dollars. (By all accounts, however, he was never motivated by money – though he certainly enjoyed the illicit fun money could buy). He was also given a fast-approaching deadline to haul more than 20 tons of silver bars and rare silver coins out of the Horseshoe’s vault. See LasVegasSun.com.
Rick Tabish’s Enters Ted and Murphy’s Lives
By the time the ruggedly handsome Tabish (33 at the time) entered the couple’s lives in the summer of 1998, Murphy had become weary of Ted’s increasingly boring lifestyle. At this point, they had been living together for three-and-a-half years, but the glamorous nights on the town had been replaced by Ted’s worsening heroin habit. He was now chasing the dragon virtually every waking hour, rarely leaving his 8,500-square-foot ranch-style house on Palomino Lane.
It was Ted who met Tabish first in a motel bathroom while they were apparently snorting cocaine. They hit it off immediately, not least because Tabish seemed to offer a solution to Ted’s silver-moving problem.
Indeed, not only did Tabish have his own trucking company to haul the massive treasure lode, but since he was also a contractor, he could build an underground vault in which to store all of it! I’m thinking Tabish didn’t tell Ted about his criminal convictions, much less his brief stint in prison. Or maybe he did – after all, they were both convicted felons resulting from drug-trafficking charges. See LATimes.com.
Tabish’s Wild Early Years
Tabish had grown up in Missoula, Montana, where he was a high school football star with a wild, violent streak and criminal inclinations. In 1983, he graduated from high school and attended a few semesters of college before dropping out. Surprisingly, he came from a fairly affluent family who allegedly bailed him out of serious criminal trouble more times than local deputies care to remember.
In December 1988, Tabish received a ten-year state prison sentence for cocaine trafficking, with seven of those years suspended. This was his second felony conviction, having previously been successfully prosecuted for aggravated assault.
Here, the former conviction would have resulted from a charge of Sale of a Controlled Substance under California Health and Safety Code section 11352; and the latter for Aggravated Battery under Pen Code section 243(d).
Fortunately for Tabish, however, he was released after only nine months and placed on parole. Nine years later, in 1997, as soon as his parole ended, he headed to Vegas in the hopes of expanding his allegedly-struggling trucking business there. See missoulian.com.
Tabish and Murphy Also Instantly Hit It Off
In short order, Ted brought his new pal home to introduce him to Murphy. By all accounts, including from Tabish himself (as he testified during the first murder trial), the two immediately fell in love. Apparently Ted was too high to notice or perhaps even care, but their affair sparked immediately and went full tilt until they were arrested (and even beyond, apparently – see the next article).
As Tabish would testify during his first murder trial, Ted was lost in a perpetual haze of heroin vapors and had lost all sexual interest in Murphy.
Not surprisingly, their scorching love affair would be presented as one of two primary motives the prosecution would present to the jury as to why Tabish and Murphy murdered Ted. The other, of course, was alleged to be money – perhaps as much as $10 million in cash and silver. Please read the next article for more details.
The Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)
Managing criminal attorney Ninaz Saffari has represented hundreds of clients who were charged with violent felonies, including first-degree murder. For example, she is currently (as of December 2020) defending a young man in a capital murder case where he was alleged to have laid in wait and fired upon a crowd, killing two people, including a minor, and wounding two others, including an elderly woman.