Murphy's mother testifies in Binion case

LAS VEGAS - Sandra Murphy's mother testified Friday that she received a threatening phone call intended for her daughter the day after Ted Binion's death.

The elder Murphy testified in the defense of her daughter, Binion's 28-year-old girlfriend who is accused with her lover, Rick Tabish, of killing the well-known gambling figure Sept. 17, 1998, and stealing his valuables

Earlier Friday, jurors got a firsthand look at some of those valuables. Under tight security, District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure led a field trip to view the 48,000 pounds of silver that Tabish and Murphy are charged with trying to steal from Binion after his death.

The silver, worth an estimated $7 million, was dug up from an underground vault in Pahrump where Binion had buried it for safekeeping. It is now stored at an undisclosed location.

Jurors and attorneys spent about 10 minutes viewing gleaming silver bars and coins. Jurors were allowed to ask questions and touch the silver.

Back in the courtroom, it was a short but intense session.

The elder Murphy, who goes by the same name as her daughter, said the threatening call was received in her room at the Desert Inn hotel-casino late in the evening from a man who identified himself as ''Nick.''

She testified that the caller said: ''Sandy, this is Nick. I'm going to see to it that you fry, you (expletive).''

Her daughter, who was sleeping in a bed next to her, said the caller sounded like Nick Behnen, Binion's brother-in-law.

Behnen told the Las Vegas Sun he called the room and left a message but denied making a threat.

Murphy's mother also testified that she never saw her daughter put a wine glass in her purse during a videotaped tour of Binion's home Sept. 18, 1998. Prosecutors contend the videotape shows Murphy taking a wine glass they believe was used in Binion's death.

Prosecutors believe Binion was forced to ingest a lethal dose of heroin and the anti-depressant Xanax, then was suffocated. They contend Murphy and Tabish, 35, a Missoula, Mont., contractor, killed Binion because the gambler intended to cut Murphy from his will.

Defense attorneys say Binion, a longtime drug user, died from an accidental overdose or committed suicide.

Murphy's mother was first called to the witness stand Thursday to describe the volatile and sometimes abusive relationship between Murphy and the 55-year-old Binion.

There was a moment of drama in the courtroom when the defense called Sandra Murphy to testify. The defendant rose from the defense table as if to take the stand herself. But then she smiled and sat down, saying ''just kidding.'' Her mother then was sworn in as a witness.

Friday's testimony came on the second day of the defense's case. The prosecution rested late Wednesday after presenting 90 witnesses.

Before adjourning about midday, attorneys for both sides battled over a defense bid to add another medical expert to the witness list.

The defense is trying to counter the prosecution testimony of well-known forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who told jurors Binion did not overdose but had been suffocated.

State Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, who is a dentist, testified Thursday for the defense that his review of autopsy photos found no evidence of suffocation.

Under cross-examination, Rawson acknowledged he was not as qualified as Baden, a veteran of 25,000 autopsies, to make his conclusions and had never examined anyone who was suffocated.

Bonaventure agreed to allow the expert testimony as early as next week over the strong objections of prosecutors who argued they should have been notified 21 days in advance.

The judge said he would delay the trial if prosecutors need more time to prepare their cross-examination.

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