I loved Positively 5th Street.
After completing the book, I could never get over the image of how Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish killed Ted Binion. Granted, Jim McManus declares what he wrote in that first chapter is his interpretation, but it seemed legit and reasonable.
Last night, Dateline NBC recounted it all, and a few things stood out…
Sept 17th 1998. As Stone Phillips or any other dumb-it-down-by-the-numbers journalist would say: Three people really know what happened that day in Ted Binion’s living room, and one of them is dead.
For those who don’t know the backstory, while running the beautiful Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, Ted Binion had developed a long-standing addiction to drugs. The hardcore stuff.
He met Sandy Murphy at a strip club. They dated for a few years (she called herself his "wife").
The relationship started going sour. Sandy met some cheesy shyster named Rick Tabish. They started banging, unbeknownst to Ted, of course. And like any good cheesy shyster, Rick had managed to gain the trust of his lover’s boyfriend; so much so that Ted trusted Tabish with burying his silver fortune (multi-millions here).
On September 17th, 1998, Ted Binion dies of an apparent drug overdose.
The next day, Rick is caught digging up all of Binion’s silver. Did I mention Rick was in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt?
Sandy and Rick–two names when paired together sound awfully pornish–are convicted of his murder.
Then, because it is ruled that the jurors in the first trial heard evidence they should not have heard from one witness, Sandy and Rick get an appeal. You could see this shocking moment developing from the Dateline special. Why? Because it was a 2-hour special, and all of this backstory was covered in about 15 minutes.
So in 2003, four years into Sandy and Rick’s life sentences, the case goes back to trial. All because of one friggin’ sentence from a witness that jurors "shouldn’t" have heard. And Nevada citizens taxpayers’ money gets dumped into another trial for two people who, guilty or not, are definitely scum. Love our judicial system.
Really, the whole second trial played out like a bad Farrelly Brother’s comedy (which would be any comedy those two have made since Something About Mary, really).
First, Rick hires this new lawyer. Oh man. This guy is a cross between Christopher Llyod’s character in Back to the Future and a retarded Cro-Magnon missing some teeth. Total nut. Apparently a very successful trial lawyer though. James Woods (the poker player/actor) portrayed this nut in a movie a few years back. The lawyer is known as a "hippie lawyer." Couldn’t understand why though? Maybe because he was actually sweating strychnine. You could trip for days if you accidentally rubbed against him.
Then Rick has a friend who was supposed to be a key prosecution witness. His name: Kurt Gratzer. This Gratzer guy was like the Kato Kaelin of the trial, except less intelligent. In fact, Gratzer was more stupid then anything in the room, including the wood paneling. Supposedly, Rick asked Gratzer to kill Ted. But Gratzer changes his story on the witness stand. He won’t cooperate, and looks like he’s been licking the nutty lawyer’s skin. The guy was just out of it.
During all of this, shots of Sandy Murphy crying hysterically are spliced throughout. And Lady Chops is buying her sob story. "She seems sweet. I don’t think she did it." That’s my girl. Never mind the evidence so long as a woman can whip up a few tears.
For me, the best part of the whole Dateline story was when Rick Tabish took the witness stand. And I have no doubt in my mind Rick Tabish killed Ted Binion because of this: poker.
When dealing with donkeys, the cardinal rule in reading them is "weak means strong, and strong means weak." And Rick Tabish was one big jackass. From his OJ-like declaration (while staring directly at the jury, no less): "I unequivocally did not do it" to his totally rehearsed, canned answers, there was no way a well-educated, thoughtful jury could ever, EVER buy his story. Never happen. These two would be re-convicted. No doubt. NO WAY the jurors would be duped.
Rick Tabish and Sandy Murphy were acquitted of murdering Ted Binion. That’s right. Four years after a jury had no doubt these that two killed Ted Binion, a different jury folded to Rick Tabish’s bluff.
I’ll give Dateline credit, they covered the story well and objectively. But they missed an opportunity to dig deeper into the jury, who had reasonable doubt enough about Rick and Sandy to set them free. But you sensed they were not thoroughly convinced of their decision. This should’ve been explored.
Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter. Because only three people know what happened in Ted Binion’s living room on September 17, 1998…