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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Binion murder convictions overturned
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
July 21, 2003

LV Review Journal photo by Jeff Scheid

On Monday, July 14, in a stunning Nevada Supreme Court decision, the state's highest court overturned the murder convictions of Sandra Murphy and Richard Tabish in the 1998 death of Vegas casino figure Ted Binion. The court said the 2000 trial of Murphy and Tabish was flawed and unfair thereby setting up a second trial in Sin City's most celebrated criminal case.

Following his client's conviction, Murphy's attorney Herb Sachs filed a motion for a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct and newly discovered evidence. Murphy's defense team also hired famed attorney Alan Derchowitz to assist in the appeal and new trial that has now been granted.

The newly discovered evidence allegedly substantiates prosecutorial misconduct in the form of threats to one of the prosecution's key witnesses, Steven Kurt Gratzer, who was allegedly told not to talk to or cooperate with defense attorneys and not to provide Murphy's attorneys with exculpatory information in advance of trial. Also, new evidence was uncovered in the form of FBI reports and an affidavit by a Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent which reveals that the FBI was aware of a possible Mafia conspiracy to have Binion murdered. According to Sachs, this evidence compels the conclusion that even if Binion was murdered, Murphy was not the killer.


Sachs also claimed that although Gratzer was granted immunity for his testimony, he was told not to speak with the defense and to cooperate only with the prosecution or he would risk losing his immunity. Gratzer was allegedly threatened by the prosecution that if he did not cooperate, the immunity agreement would be revoked and he would be prosecuted. Gratzer was paid $20,000 after trial through the Binion estate.

Murphy's attorneys filed a Motion for Discovery in advance of trial. Despite this discovery request, the prosecution never disclosed to Murphy's attorneys the favorable information confirming Murphy's innocence.

After the trial, defendants received copies of FBI reports detailing an April 9, 1999, interview of Alfred Mauriello conducted  by Special Agents Maurer and Howey, and an interview of Antone Davi conducted on April 20, 1999, by Special Agent Maurer. The interviews were conducted during investigation of the murder of Vegas mobster Herbie Blitzstein. Davi was later convicted for Blitzstein's murder.

According to the report, Davi detailed a Mafia plot to have Binion murdered. Davi stated that the Mafia had previously threatened Binion's life and contracted to have Binion killed, and that they were going to make his murder appear to be a drug overdose, according to Sachs.

Murphy's defense team also obtained an affidavit of FBI Special Agent Gerald McIntosh which was prepared on December 13, 1999, in connection with an application for a wiretap authorization in a case unrelated to the Binion and Blitzstein cases. According to the affidavit, one result of the wiretap was the interception of "discussion of enterprise members' knowledge and their associates' roles and participation in the murder of Teddy Binion."

Special Agent McIntosh testified, based on information he learned from confidential sources, that in September 1999, a group of people traveled to Pahrump, Nevada to attempt to find an additional silver stash of Binion's. He also stated that "someone else" other than Tabish or Murphy was present when Binion died; that Binion received $10 million the morning he died - money which was never recovered; that Binion's own family members may have been involved in a plot to kill Binion; that Binion was suffocated with a pillow; and that the crime was made to look like a drug overdose.

Sachs argued in the appeal that law enforcement (FBI and the Vegas District Attorney) had the obligation to provide the McIntosh testimony to the defense, and their failure to do so was another example of prosecutorial misconduct.

At trial, it was argued that Binion either accidentally died or committed suicide through a drug overdose. Forensic testimony placed the time of Binion's death as late as 2:40 p.m. on September 17, 1998. Testimony also established that Murphy was out of the house during the afternoon of September 17, 1998.

The information contained in the FBI reports, had it been known to Murphy's attorneys at trial, could have easily created the doubt necessary for the jury to acquit her, stated Sachs in his appeal.

At trial, the prosecution called manicurist Deana Perry as a witness. Perry testified that on September 10, 1998, Murphy came into her salon for a pedicure and manicure. According to Perry, Murphy spoke of her relationship with Binion and stated that "[Binion] was going to die of a drug overdose" within three weeks. Murphy also allegedly told Perry that she and her boyfriend were going to take Binion's silver after he died.

Deana Perry (AARON MAYES / LV SUN)

Perry denied that she was lying in her testimony to get reward money or a deal for her father, a former Hell's Angel serving a life sentence in federal prison. Following her trial testimony, Perry also received $20,000 in reward money from the Binion estate.

After the trial, on December 13, 2001, Murphy's defense team interviewed Thomas McNamera under oath and obtained his sworn statement. Deana Perry was a tenant who was boarding in McNamera's house in September 1998. While Perry was living in his house, she allegedly told McNamera that she intended to contact the police about her conversation with Murphy. She allegedly stated that she was contacting the police to see whether she could get a reduced sentence for her father, and mentioned that she could also receive reward money. When asked by McNamera why she wanted to testify against Murphy, Perry's alleged response was that she "had to see what she can do" about getting her father's sentence reduced.

Following the trial, it is speculated that prosecutors David Roger and David Wall used their newfound fame to catapult them into higher office. Roger is now the Clark County District Attorney, and Wall is a District Court judge. Roger is expected to appeal the Nevada Supreme Court decision.

           David Roger

In September, 2000, both Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish called this reporter from the Clark County Detention Center to give me new information that had not previously been covered by the local or national media.

The incentive for their calls to my home was a front page story I had authored for a local newspaper reporting an incident that occurred at Piero's restaurant in Las Vegas that involved the late Ted Binion's closest friend Bob Stupak and his 23 year old daughter Summer Stupak.

Late on the evening of August 25, 2000, I was informed by Summer Stupak that she and her father, the developer of the Stratosphere Tower on the Las Vegas Strip, were attacked and beaten by Benny Behnen, the 24 year old son of current Horseshoe owner Becky Behnen, and two accomplices identified as Grover "Chance" LeSueur, 24, and Russell "R.D." Matthews, 80.

Prior to the assault, LeSueur and Matthews were seen dining with Becky, her husband Nick Behnen, and Benny Behnen in another part of Piero's. Witnesses said that the three men reportedly approached the Stupaks while they were having dinner and accused the father of stealing Horseshoe chips. Then the three men reportedly began beating the two Stupaks.

Three previous incidents involving Behnen family members and friends reportedly took place during the summer of 1997 at the home of Ted Binion. These incidents may shed new light on just how bitter the relationship between Ted Binion and the Behnens had become.

A police report that was not used in the first trial by Rick Tabish's first attorney Louie Palazzo revealed that a drive-by shooting occurred on June 5, 1997, in front of Ted Binion's Palomino Lane home. Included in the police report about the late night incident is a statement by Ted Binion alleging that Chance LeSueur and Benny Behnen were the shooters.

       Benny Behnen

Leading up to the shooting incident is a confidential eyewitness statement I obtained from a source within the investigation. It was made to state gaming authorities by Murphy who told a story of three unwelcome visits to the Palomino Lane house by the Behnens or their associates during the weeks prior to the drive-by shooting.

On one occasion Murphy describes a visit by Chance LeSueur. She described LeSueur coming to the door of the house wanting to speak to Ted. Murphy said she told LeSueur through the locked door that "When Ted's not home no one is allowed to come in the house." Murphy then describes LeSueur kicking the door and screaming "I'm going to kill you!" She said she picked up a pistol and showed it to LeSueur through the window to prove she "was not fooling around." LeSueur then reportedly left the property.

In another incident according to Murphy, "R.D. Matthews came over to our house with Benny one day and they wanted to talk to Ted. I opened the door like a dummy. They forced their way in. I tried to shut the door on them, but they pushed me aside. I said Ted is in his room sleeping, but he got up and began yelling at R.D. and Benny, and it got to be a scene. Then R.D. left and told Ted that he was going to be sorry. "

Murphy also described an event she said she witnessed in late spring 1997, when Nick and Benny Behnen reportedly came over to Binion's house and met with Ted in the garage. She described both Behnens as being intoxicated and engaged in a "screaming match" with Ted. She said that Ted grabbed a shotgun and cocked it saying "Get the hell out of here." She said the Behnen's left the property and Nick Behnen reportedly called Ted later that day leaving 11 messages on his answering machine.

Murphy told me she gave state gaming investigators and her attorney a copy of the answering machine tape, but it also was not used at trial.

Then in a separate call to my home from Rick Tabish, he stated, "Nobody has to take my word. I'm just a convicted murderer." He went on to say that a friend informed him that Becky and Nick Behnen hired advertising man Sig Rogich to "wreck you guys publicly." He then said, "This is like a presidential campaign the way these guys have gone after us. We're in Newsweek; we're in People; America's Most Wanted; and Unsolved Mysteries. They (the Behnens) educate the public on exactly how they think this happened and then they offer a reward at the last minute."

Tabish then described the removal of $3.5 million dollars in chips from the Horseshoe cashier's cage by brothers Ted and Jack Binion. He said, "There is no way that gaming control or anybody can get around it. That was a massive embezzlement."

He told me of a plan that the Binion brothers reportedly had to return the chips for redemption at a time when the casino would not be able to cover them. At that time the two brothers allegedly planned to break the bank and take over the casino from the Behnens. Tabish said that Becky and Nick Behnen knew of the Binion brother's plan to take back the Horseshoe and, therefore, "The only person that had any motive to murder that guy was her," referring to Becky. Murphy had also told gaming investigators that Ted hated his sister Becky.

Speaking of Becky Behnen and her brothers Jack and Ted, Tabish said, "They set her up like a cream pie! They walked out and both laughed. They took their money and said 'We'll be back within a year.'" Tabish went on to say, "That's why Ted was scrambling to get his gaming license back." He then described Ted giving then-gubernatorial candidate Jan Jones $50,000 expecting her to make sure his gaming license was reinstated if she was elected.

Meanwhile, three months after a tearful press conference Becky Behnen arranged at her brother's graveside, she was inexplicably seen dining with Chance LeSueur and R.D. Matthews, two of the men who reportedly tormented Ted Binion shortly before his death. On May 20, 2001, LeSueur was found dead of unknown causes in Mesa, Arizona.

A date has not yet been set for the retrial, however the case is expected to be remanded back to the original judge, Joseph Bonaventure, sometime in the coming weeks. Both Murphy and Tabish are expected to ask Bonaventure to grant them bail so that they can assist their attorneys in preparing their second defense.

Judge Bonaventure autographing book about case after trial (KLAS TV)

Recently, attention is being given to the possibility that Judge Bonaventure soon after the trial violated Cannon 2 of the Nevada Code of Judicial Ethics. The Cannon states, "A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities. A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." His participation in an August 11, 2001, book signing party hosted by Becky Behnen at the Horseshoe casino while the case was still in his jurisdiction is being discussed as a reason for his disqualification and the assignment of a new judge.

Judge Bonaventure was assigned two other cases that were nationally televised: the trial of confessed child killer Jeremy Strohmeyer; and the trial of Margaret Rudin convicted of murdering her husband Ron Rudin, a 64-year-old real estate magnate. The retrial of Murphy and Tabish is also expected to be nationally televised. A computer in the Court Clerk's office makes a "random" selection from the 19 District Court judges to determine who presides over upcoming cases.

I later learned that the Court Clerk's computer assigns judges in numerical order. If the Clerk is aware a highly desirable case is about to be assigned, he can hold that case until the number of a judge who would like to preside over such a case is about to appear on the computer. However, when I inquired why Judge Bonaventure was "randomly" selected to preside over all three of the most highly publicized trials in Nevada history, I was told it was purely "coincidental."

It's rumored that Bonaventure is being considered to hold court as presiding judge over real-life cases on a new TV courtroom series. If he accepts the position, he will have to relinquish his seat on the Clark County District Court bench.

Copyright © Steve Miller

Recommended reading: Death in the Desert: The Ted Binion Homicide Case, by Cathy Scott

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