LAS VEGAS - The high-profile Ted Binion murder case began Monday with the tedious process of the judge and attorneys quizzing a long line of prospective jurors on issues from drugs to family values.
Defendants Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish watched intently as District Judge Joseph Bonaventure explained the case to an initial panel of 112 prospective jurors jammed into a small courtroom.
The judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys quizzed jurors - some for as long as 30 minutes - on such issues as divorce, drug use and whether they would convict someone on circumstantial evidence. The length of questioning bolstered projections that the selection of 12 jurors and six alternates could take a week or more.
Murphy, a former topless dancer, and Tabish, a Missoula, Mont. contractor, are charged with the Sept. 17, 1998 murder of Binion, a member of an old line casino clan. Defense attorneys claim the case is built on circumstantial evidence.
Chief Deputy District Attorney David Roger told prospective jurors the state would prove that Binion was ''pumped full of heroin and Xanax and then suffocated'' by Murphy and Tabish. He said the state also would prove the pair tried to steal $5 million in silver that Binion had buried in a desert vault along a heavily-traveled road in Pahrump, Nev., 60 miles west of Las Vegas.
Defense attorney Louis Palazzo told the court that there is no evidence to show that Binion was a murder victim. He said Binion acquired both heroin and the anti-depressant Xanax on his own the day before his death.
Palazzo said testimony will show that Binion directed Tabish to recover the silver from the vault if anything happened to him. The attorney said Tabish notified Nye County Sheriff Wayne Lieseke of his intention to dig up the silver before taking the action in the predawn hours of Sept. 19, about 36 hours after Binion was found dead in his Las Vegas home.
Bonaventure tried to add some levity in the long-awaited proceedings.
At one point a prospective juror told the judge she waited on defense attorney John Momot when she worked at the Golden Nugget hotel-casino, across from the downtown courthouse.
''Was he a good tipper?'' the judge asked.
The jurors have been promised unprecedented security by Bonaventure, including being escorted to and from a designated parking lot by court bailiffs. The judge has ruled that jurors' names will not be released and no photos will be allowed of those selected. The court has banned filming of the jury selection process and jurors are identified by number, not by name.
Bonaventure also has issued a gag order, banning attorneys and witnesses from talking to the media.
Bonaventure said the trial could take six weeks to two months.