11/26/2004 12:00AM

New verdicts are in, but Binion saga far from over

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The world's longest reality series, the Ted Binion saga, took another strange twist last week. Jurors, in a retrial of the Binion murder case, found Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish not guilty this time around. Four years ago they were found guilty, but a higher court overturned the verdicts on appeal.

Binion was a member of the well-known gaming family that owned Binion's Horseshoe casino in downtown Las Vegas. He was found dead in his home on Sept. 17, 1998.

Prosecutors alleged that Murphy and Tabish suffocated Binion and tried to make his death look like a drug overdose. The defense contended that the 55-year-old Binion died of an accidental overdose of heroin, Xanax, and Valium.

The investigation and two trials since Binion's death have so much sex, drugs, and intrigue that they make current reality shows look tame.

Here's a quick flashback on the players in this ongoing soap opera.

The attractive Murphy was the live-in lover of Binion, who at the time they met was more than twice her age.

Tabish was doing work for Binion. While Tabish's wife and kids were home in Montana, he was having an affair with Murphy at the time of Binion's death.

Binion, who had a drug problem, had lost his Nevada gaming license and had to relinquish control of the Horseshoe to his brother Jack and sister Becky Behnen.

The first trial, in April and May of 2000, attracted worldwide attention, including daily coverage on Court TV.

Viewers were riveted by details like Tabish being arrested the day after Binion's death for trying to dig up Binion's silver lode, buried in a vault in Pahrump.

Also the next day, Murphy made a video of all the valuables in Binion's home. She sounded not like a grieving widow, but like she was taking inventory of possessions that she believed would soon belong to her.

The key to victory by the defense attorneys this time centered on discrediting the expert testimony of renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden. Baden determined that Binion's death was caused by "burking," putting pressure upon the chest, nose, and mouth to force suffocation.

Also in the retrial, District Judge Joseph Bonaventure ruled that the prosecutors could not call two key witnesses to the stand: Tabish's ex-wife, and lawyer Jim Brown, a longtime friend of Binion.

The ex-wife was expected to call Tabish's alibi into question, and Brown testified in the first trial that Binion, on the day before his death, ordered him to remove Murphy from his will. The inference was that Binion had learned of Murphy's affair with Tabish.

The retrial only garnered a fraction of the local and national interest of the first trial. However, the fireworks are far from over.

A civil trial will settle two issues - a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Binion estate against Murphy and Tabish, and a suit by Murphy claiming her share of Binion's $55 million estate.

And the casino? More than six years after Binion's death, the Horseshoe in March 2005 will be changing management to Mountaineer Gaming.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.