During the fall of 2006 there was a young man with the given name of Rio Miller who was murdered at home by his wife, a former stripper and one-time online web-cam model. The method of murder was made infamous
prior to that during the sensational Ted Binnion case trials; Rio was “burked.”
Unlike that contrived tale woven by the discredited private investigator and former LVMPD detective Thomas D. Dillard, Sr., this was an actual case in which Rio’s wife intentionally had forced a sufficient quantity of prescription drugs down his throat so that he would die of an overdose. Whether or not the formal cause of death was classified as suffocation, usual in burking, or a simple drug overdose, the result was the same.
In Binion’s case Dr. Baden was unable to persuade a jury during the second trial that Sandy Murphy had forced drugs down Binion’s throat. She was found not guilty in that second trial. However, following the death of Rio Miller, no one was interested in declaring that death a result of foul play.
Rio Miller was a trusted friend of Jason R. Turner, who was murdered a year earlier, in September 2005. Jason had entrusted Rio with a substantial memorabilia collection consisting of baseball and other sports cards and rare comic books that he had saved over most of his twenty-five years. After Rio’s death, which occurred the same day that Cynthia Turner had planned to retrieve Jason’s valuable collection from Rio and his wife, that collection vanished.
What these two deaths have in common other than the friendship of two young men and that each of the wives were former sex workers acquainted with each other, was that the Clark County Coroner’s Office failed to make a determination of homicide as the cause of death.
Although in the Jason Turner death there was a belated determination by coroner investigator Rick Jones that foul play had taken place, there was no such determination in the case of Rio Miller. His death was deemed an unfortunate unintentional overdose.
Over a ten-year period from 2001 to 2011, deaths in Clark County have increased faster than the national rate. The percentage of deaths increased 25 percent during those ten years in Clark County, yet only 1.4 percent nationally.
County Coroner Michael Murphy has asserted that “better communication”
between the coroner’s office and physicians is the reason why fewer deaths are accepted for investigation by the coroner’s office.
This presumes that physicians will accurately submit information about a deceased patient’s health history, and that no physician ever makes an error regarding treatment, drug dosages or any other abnormality or untimely death. Murphy implies that every death reported by physicians, hospitals or clinics is free from suspicion, and is to be accepted at face value when determined by a physician to be above suspicion.
We know from the case of Lila Arnett in 2005 that her death was caused by clinicians forcing her to take medication that she was allergic to–not once or twice but four times within a few hours. That gross incompetence was followed by a physician in University Medical Center threatening a nurse who balked at delivering a lethal dose of medication that was intended to compensate for collapsed lungs caused by the first horrific error. Warned by a nurse that the dose prescribed for immediate administration was excessive, the doctor demanded that it be given nevertheless.
According to Murphy’s assessment these clinicians and physicians can be trusted never to cause deaths that would be investigated by the coroner’s office, or if such unfortunate circumstances should arise, those guilty of untimely deaths would report this and ask for an independent assessment from the coroner.
As for those staff investigators under Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy–those investigators who are charged with the responsibility to determine causes of death–their evaluations can only be as valid as their integrity and professionalism.
In the case of former coroner investigator John L. Stallings, we know that he falsified his professional experience as a police officer while being deposed, and that he made false written statements within his brief incident report on the death of Jason R. Turner in September 2005. Those statements became very problematic in that his falsehoods launched a cover-up of Jason’s murder that has not ended to this day.
While Murphy has scheduled his retirement, the integrity of the coroner’s office remains in question as long as people like John Stallings are employed as coroner’s investigators. Who will root out the weeds among the harvestable plants?
The temptation and simplicity of causing another’s death by prescription drug overdose can and will be too much for some people to resist. Those who are licensed clinicians and doctors are allowed to cover up their own mistakes far too easily by a county coroner who benefits from having to investigate fewer unexplained deaths. It’s easier on the coroner’s budget. It’s less work for investigators. It’s less expense and work for the district attorney and prosecutors. It creates fewer cases of homicide to be investigated by the LVMPD.
In the cases of Jason Turner and Rio Miller, the failure to prosecute Jason’s killer might very well have led to the murder of his friend one year later. The ease of getting away with that crime, it can be reasonably argued, led to the second.