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Millionaire murder duo wants new trial

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(Court TV) -- It has been more than two years since a Las Vegas jury convicted Sandy Murphy and her married lover, Rick Tabish, of murdering casino bigwig, Ted Binion.

But the case that even Sin City residents found a sensation is hardly over. After dramatic oral arguments last summer, the Nevada Supreme Court has spent the past six months mulling whether the duo deserve a new trial. A ruling could come at any time.

And as the defendants await the court's announcement, their lawyers have gathered ammunition to use at a new trial, including evidence they say suggests the mob killed Binion.

Binion, whose family owns Binion's Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas, was found dead in his home Sept. 17, 1998. An autopsy showed the 55-year-old's stomach was full of Xanax and heroin. Initially, police thought the multimillionaire, who had been a heroin addict for almost 20 years, had overdosed.

But prompted by the dead man's family, detectives soon came to see the death as a murder and Binion's much younger live-in girlfriend and her secret lover as prime suspects.  At Tabish and Murphy's murder trial, prosecutors argued that the pair killed Binion because he was about to write the philandering Murphy out of his will. A jury found them guilty after their 2000 trial and Judge Joseph Bonaventure sent Murphy, 30, to prison for at a minimum of 22 years and Tabish, 37, to prison for at least 25 years.

To appeal her conviction, Murphy hired noted Harvard professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz while Tabish retained famed radical attorney J. Tony Serra.

During the 80-minute oral arguments in June, Dershowitz told the justices the convictions should be overturned because of conflicting prosecution evidence concerning the cause of Binion's death.

Prosecutors called the local medical examiner who testified that Binion died of a forced overdose, but their second pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, told jurors Binion was "burked" or suffocated by someone sitting on his chest and placing something over his mouth. The drugs, Baden told jurors, were not enough to kill Binion.

In effect, Dershowitz  said, the disagreeing pathologists created the reasonable doubt necessary for an acquittal.

Some justices seemed intrigued by the defense argument and grilled prosecutors David Roger and David Wall, who countered that jurors didn't have to agree on how the murder took place, only that the death was in fact a murder.

In October, a federal judge ordered the FBI to hand over evidence about any possible mob involvement in Binion's death. The casino mogul associated with mafia figures and one FBI agent investigating another mob case filed an affidavit referring to organized crime figures possibly conspiring to kill Binion. Serra, Tabish's attorney, asked the FBI for any information backing up this affidavit and said, "This could be the centerpiece of our argument if what the affidavit implies is true."

Such evidence -- if any exists -- may be made public as soon as January.

Also this fall, defense lawyers said they had new evidence suggesting a mark on Binion's chest was not the smoking gun some expert witnesses contended it was. Three medical witnesses told the jury the mark seemed to be the imprint of a button, proof that someone had sat on the victim's chest just before death.

But Murphy's attorneys say they have a new witness, a dermatological pathologist, who will testify the mark is probably dermatitis.

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