LAS VEGAS - Judge Joseph Bonaventure, the judge currently presiding over the appeals of Sandra Murphy and Richard Tabish, attended an August 11 book signing at the Horseshoe Casino. While there, Judge Bonaventure signed several dozen copies of "Murder in Sin City," an amateurishly written paperback telling one side of the story of the death of former Horseshoe owner Lonnie "Ted" Binion.
Becky Behnen, the estranged sister of the late Ted Binion, currently owns the Horseshoe. The relationship between the Binion siblings was strained and bitter prior to Ted's untimely death that was initially diagnosed to be the result of a lethal overdose of narcotics.
In 1996, Binion was forced to forfeit his interest in the Horseshoe Club by the Nevada Gaming Commission because of his involvement with drugs and underworld figures. In a 1997 police report, Ted Binion accused Becky's son Benny Behnen of a drive-by shooting at his former Palomino Lane estate, an estate now owned by Binion's daughter.
Following Binion's funeral, Becky Behnen encouraged District Attorney Stewart Bell to disregard the coroner's report and open a murder investigation that later resulted in the convictions of Sandra Murphy and Richard Tabish for first degree murder.
Had Murphy who was Binion's live-in girlfriend not been convicted of his murder, she would have inherited a large portion of Binion's multimillion-dollar estate. Because of her conviction, Binion's entire fortune went to his family.
In response to questions about the casino's financial condition and a possible motivation for reopening the investigation, the Las Vegas Tribune reported on August 29 that the Fremont Street Experience Limited Liability Corporation filed a long-anticipated lawsuit against the Horseshoe Club Operating Company charging Behnen with failure to pay $1.5 million in monthly assessments to the casino mall. It has long been suspected that the casino was experiencing financial problems.
The presiding judge by his participation in the book signing has raised speculation that he is showing prejudice by reason of his still being assigned to the case. Judge Bonaventure has yet to rule on several upcoming motions that may grant the defendants, who are both serving life sentences, new separate trials.
Murphy and Tabish are basing their appeals on purported judicial and jury misconduct, and a recently disclosed FBI affidavit telling of a 1999 federal wiretap possibly implicating others in Binion's death.
Also of interest was that immediately following the trial the majority of the jury members were seen at the Horseshoe having dinner with the Behen family.
On August 11, an attendee at the Horseshoe book signing described Becky Behnen and Judge Bonaventure's actions that day.
"I was the second one in line and when Becky (Behnen) arrived, she said 'Is the judge here yet?' and when he did arrive, he was halfway to the door when he was overcome by autograph seekers. He stayed for approximately 15 minutes outside the room until Becky said the autograph party was about to start, then he came in and just stood around. The book's author had thanked the judge for coming but the judge didn't sit down with him. The author said he saved him a book, but the judge said 'no thanks.' Becky Behnen signed my copy after the judge signed."
Both judge Joseph Bonaventure's and Becky Behnen's signatures appear on page 2 of the book obtained by the Las Vegas Tribune, however Ms. Behnen signed only her first name "Becky" at the bottom of the page.
Also signing autographs at the Horseshoe were prosecutors David Roger and David Wall whose signatures appear on page 1.
The question is whether Judge Bonaventure showed prejudice when he autographed the book about a case he is currently presiding over - a question that is expected to be asked if he refuses to grant Murphy and Tabish separate new trials.
A statement printed on page 284 of the book gives emphasis to the prejudice question:
"But the most enjoyable privilege might have been having sex with Murphy right under the noses of the guards. At one session, while the lawyers and other defense team members were talking with the two defendants, Murphy was observed slipping to her knees under the table and giving oral sex to Tabish. Defense team members could hardly believe their eyes as other team members continued the discussion as if nothing unusual was happening. The corrections officers, sitting outside the boardroom, apparently never saw Murphy disappear under the table," wrote German.
Defense team attorneys who were present at the boardroom session have since expressed their disgust with German's sexual allegation saying that it was fabricated to add spice to the otherwise lackluster book; exposed them as officers of the court to professional ridicule; and totally discredited him as an author.
Several other attorneys who have read the paperback told the Tribune that it was improper for Judge Bonaventure to have signed his name to such a biased and inflammatory book because his signature implied that he was endorsing the validity of the above and other slanderous and unproven sexual allegations that are scattered throughout the pages - allegations that if untrue demonize the defendants who he is about to pass judgment on.
All attorneys interviewed by the Tribune asked not to be identified and have expressed that the judge should recuse himself from the rest of the case based on his recent actions.
One of the attorneys believes that Judge Bonaventure, by promoting the book, may have violated Cannon 2 of the NEVADA CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT that states: "A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities. A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
The Horseshoe Club is well known as a generous political campaign contributor causing speculation that the judge by his appearance at the book signing was paying back for past support or was garnering future support for a run for the Nevada Supreme Court. It was also thought that David Roger's appearance was intended to also encourage political support from the Behnens for his upcoming campaign for DA.
Nonetheless, the appearance of the judge and prosecutors was considered by many to be unethical.
A spokesperson for the judge said his participation in the book signing was an unplanned coincidence - and that he was just passing through the casino when he was asked to sign a few books. However, to dispute this claim, Judge Bonaventure's court clerk Al Lasso was also present at the Saturday book signing and his autograph appears just below that of the judge.
German's book is considered by reviewers to be heavily biased in favor of the prosecution and written to serve the interests of Becky Behnen.
Another book now out about the case, "Death in the Desert" by Cathy Scott, is considered to be professionally written, objective, and not favoring either the prosecution or the defense.
Judge Bonaventure did not "coincidentally" appear at the book signing party held for Ms. Scott.
It has been speculated that a complaint may be in the works with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Ethics against Judge Bonaventure for his participation in the promotion of German's book while he is still presiding over the case.
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