Augustine’s daughter waits for justice, no matter how long it takes | NevadaAppeal.com

Augustine’s daughter waits for justice, no matter how long it takes

John L. Smith

Until recently, Dallas Augustine’s only first-hand experience with a criminal trial was limited to a high school field trip to the courthouse. That’s changed now.

As she’s watched the murder case against Chaz Higgs methodically unfold from her seat near the back of a Reno courtroom, Augustine has received a painful legal education. She has forced herself to take in almost every minute of the trial of the man she believes is her mother’s killer.

It’s been a learning experience akin to a waking nightmare, but one she hopes will result in justice for her mother, Kathy Augustine, and bring closure. No matter how long it takes.

To hear her mother’s name mentioned over and over again in the past tense has been difficult, but Dallas believes watching the trial is necessary for her own emotional well-being. So she sits quietly in the courtroom and listens as Deputy District Attorney Christopher Hicks makes the state’s case to a jury of eight women and four men.

Some days, she’s found herself almost numb to the process.

“Over all,” she says, “I’m just here to make sure justice is done.”

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No matter how long it takes.

On Monday, Dallas Augustine watched Higgs take the witness stand in his own defense. It was a move generally considered desperate by experienced criminal defense attorneys. She listened closely and came away more convinced than ever of his guilt.

The next day, she learned that, following his direct examination by defense attorney David Houston, Higgs attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. He was hospitalized Tuesday, the day he was to face what was expected to be a punishing cross-examination, but was expected to make a full recovery. The trial was suspended, and Houston predicted a mistrial.

Was Higgs believable?

“No, not at all,” the 27-year-old Augustine says. “I was pretty much convinced by the time he took the stand because the prosecution has done a great job laying out their case and calling the right people to support their evidence. It’s pretty cut and dried.”

Beyond the direct forensic evidence that strongly suggests Kathy Augustine was killed by a lethal dose of the powerful muscle relaxant succinlycholine, and witness testimony that tied Higgs to talk of using the drug to kill, there was the defendant’s 9-1-1 call and his strange behavior after the death, including a previous suicide attempt.

Whether staring at his notebook at the defendant’s table or sharing his version of events with the jury, Higgs appears to have gone out of his way to avoid eye contact with Dallas, who had pleaded with the public to be fair to Higgs shortly after her mother’s death on July 11, 2006.

“I’m sure he saw me, but I haven’t had any contact with him or his family since right before he got arrested back in September,” she says.

Kathy Augustine and her third husband, Charles, hadn’t gotten along for several years when he was hospitalized in 2003. Higgs was one of his nurses. After an intensive forensic analysis, the death of Charles Augustine was ruled to be by natural causes.

Although Higgs had married her mom just three weeks after the death of Charles Augustine in 2003, Dallas recalls her mother being happy with her new life. She gave Higgs the benefit of the doubt.

“The only thing I ever heard about their relationship is that my mom was happy,” she says. “I don’t know if that was her way of protecting her only child. I was the one at the start standing there saying show me some evidence.”

Now the evidence against Higgs has Dallas convinced of his guilt. But that’s not why she makes her way down to court each morning.

She wants justice. She believes her mother would want her in the courtroom, not shying away from the painful images, not backing down from the emotional trauma.

“It’s helping me get to a closing point with the loss of my mother,” Dallas says. “This has been a yearlong, uphill battle, and it was the first step to really, really getting that closure. I will be in court every day that court is in session and we’re moving forward with this until we get a verdict.”

No matter how long it takes.

• John L. Smith’s column appears Thursdays in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.

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