Sex and Lies in Sin City was a made-for-Lifetime film which recreates
the circumstances of the scandalous death of Ted Binion, son of the Las
Vegas pioneer "Benny" Binion, who opened the Horseshoe Casino back in
1951, when Vegas was still in its infancy, and who created the World Series of
Poker in the early 70s.
Ted ran the World Series of Poker for many years, and built it
substantially. He was known around town as someone who might have been a
great man if he could have kept his excesses in check. He made friends
easily, was exceptionally brilliant, and had a good heart. Unfortunately,
he could never live up to his potential because of his drug habits. He
liked to smoke, and not just some harmless reefer. He liked to chase the
dragon, which has nothing to do with whether he liked Bruce Lee movies,
but rather refers to his favorite recreation - snorting heroin fumes.
He OD'd at age 54 in 1998, under circumstances strange enough to lead
the police eventually to conclude that his overdose was forced upon him by
his stripper girlfriend and her lover, a Binion friend and business
associate. I've read quite a bit about that case. If you want to catch up,
the Court TV (now truTV) site, as always, offers an exceptionally thorough
overview. The short version is that the pair, Sandra Murphy and Rick
Tabith, were tried twice for his murder, as well as for plotting to loot
the stash of Binion's underground vault.
The movie presents various possible interpretations of the
circumstances surrounding Binion's death, but it does lead the viewer to
accept one particular interpretation over the others, and it portrays the
accused killers (played by Mena Suvari and Jonathan Schaech) with a
significant amount of sympathy. There are no real bad guys in this film.
The script also allows Matthew Modine to play Ted Binion as a complex and
charming man when he was not descending into his drug-fueled madness.
I'm not convinced that the presentation was totally fair. In developing
its point of view, the script ignored some key evidence that led the
police to believe that Binion died in one place and was dragged to
another, after which there was a deliberate cleansing of the path between
the two places. Still and all, the fact remains that the evidence against
the murderers was circumstantial, and some prosecution witnesses in the
first trial later admitted that they had been paid to "play ball." The
Nevada supreme court ordered a retrial based on some errors made by the
judge in the first trial, and the second trial led to "not guilty"
verdicts on the murder charge and a conviction on the larceny. In my
opinion, the defendants should have been found not guilty of the larceny
charges as well, although I believe they actually did it. Tabith said that
he was emptying the vault based on the explicit orders of Binion, and his
story was backed up by the fact that Tabith was the only person who had
the combination beside Binion, therefore the only person who could have
opened it after Binion's death. Tabith claimed that he was emptying it to
get the money safely to Binion's daughter. While that seems unlikely,
there is no crime in doing unlikely things, and the police could never
prove he had any other motivations. In fact, he called the local sheriff
three times that day about the excavation, although he did not tell John
Law the whole truth. As for Murphy, her conviction on the larceny charge
was total nonsense. It is logical to assume that she was guilty, but the
evidence simply did not support that. The whole case against her is that
Tabith called her several times while he was unearthing the silver, thus
establishing their conspiracy. That's ridiculous for two reasons: (1) the
prosecutors never proved that Tabith was committing a crime in the first
place; (2) the prosecutors never proved that the couple were talking about
the silver. Phone records proved that they had talked on the phone as
frequently as 20 times a day, so why would the long excavation period be
any different from any other time of similar duration?
Did the lovers actually conspire to steal the silver. Probably. Tabish
had done similar things in the past. But there certainly was "reasonable
doubt," and that is the basis of legal guilt or innocence.
Did the lovers commit the murder, either by planning it or by
deliberately failing to call for help when they knew Binion was
overdosing? I don't know. After studying all 25 pages of the Crime TV
report, I still can't come to a conclusion either way. It does appear that
the accused pair covered up some details of their involvement and lied
about others, but it also appears that there were plenty of shenanigans in
the prosecution's case, which would indicate that the prosecutors wouldn't
have had a case if they had played fair.
Hey, it's Vegas. Everybody was scamming everyone else.
Who lied the most? Flip a coin.