LAS VEGAS - Prosecutors began detailing their case against the former girlfriend of Ted Binion and her reputed lover, saying lust and greed led the two to murder the former casino executive so they could get his fortune.
But defense attorneys countered in Friday's opening arguments that Sandra Murphy was a victim of the powerful Binion family ''money machine'' and Rick Tabish was just a friend of Binion's who had his best interests at heart.
''He was murdered for lust, for greed. He was murdered by someone he trusted and her new companion,'' Chief Deputy District Attorney David Roger said as the trial opened.
Murphy, Binion's live-in girlfriend, and Tabish, a Missoula, Mont., contractor, are charged with killing Binion on Sept. 17, 1998, and stealing valuables from his home. They are also accused of trying to steal about $5 million in silver and coins Binion had buried in a desert vault along a heavily-traveled road in Pahrump, Nev.
The prosecution contends Murphy and Tabish forced Binion to ingest a lethal combination of heroin and the prescription drug Xanax. But the two were forced to suffocate Binion when they were interrupted by his gardener.
The defense claims Binion overdosed and, considering his heavy drug use, was lucky to live to the age of 55. They contend the overdose was either a suicide or accidental. Binion had lost his gambling license because of heroin use and associations with an organized crime figure.
Both sides have well-known forensics experts to back their theories.
Roger depicted Murphy, who met Binion when she was 23, as a money-hungry woman who knew no end to the credit line Binion allowed her.
''Sandra Murphy led a pretty good life when she lived with Ted Binion,'' Roger said.
Binion had Murphy written into his will, but the day before he died he allegedly told his attorney: ''Take Sandy out of the will, if she doesn't kill me tonight.''
Roger said the two began plotting Binion's death after Tabish learned that Murphy stood to inherit Binion's money.
Tabish, who is married and has two children, was deep in debt and needed money, Roger said. Tabish was caught 36 hours after Binion's death digging up the silver he had buried for Binion.
Murphy's attorney, John Momot, painted a picture of a ''kid from Southern California'' who fell in love with a wealthy gambling figure with a drug habit. Momot said Murphy loved Binion and was the only one who would take care of him when he was on drugs.
He said the charges against Murphy are ''the Binion money machine at work.''
''They took this case from a drug overdose and turned it around and made it a homicide. Why? Because Sandy is not a Binion,'' Momot said.
He said Tabish became Murphy's ''support mechanism'' and someone she could talk to about Binion's drug use and physical abuse toward her.
Momot said Binion obtained heroin from his drug dealer the night before his murder along with a prescription for Xanax. The drugs were not obtained by Murphy, he said, adding there is no reliable evidence showing Binion was murdered.
Tabish's attorney Louis Palazzo told the jury Tabish only took Binion's silver because Binion asked him to do it if anything were to happen to him.
''Rick Tabish didn't ask for any of this. He didn't ask to be a part of this nightmare,'' Palazzo said.
He also disputed the reliability of Leo Casey, who will testify he was tortured into turning over his interest in a Jean sandpit. Tabish and two other men face charges of extortion, kidnapping and assault in that incident.
Meanwhile, District Judge Joseph Bonaventure lifted a gag order barring trial participants from discussing the case with the media. He also denied a defense motion for a change of venue in the case.