Higgs back in Reno to face murder charge in Augustine death
Associated Press Writer
RENO – Three months after he claimed that his wife and former state Controller Kathy Augustine had suffered a severe heart attack, Chaz Higgs returned to Nevada Wednesday night to face charges that he poisoned her.
Higgs, 42, is scheduled to be arraigned at 10 a.m. Friday on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Augustine, who police say died on July 11 after Higgs had allegedly injected her with a paralyzing drug.
The critical care nurse was arrested Sept. 29 in Hampton, Va., where he waived extradition. He arrived at the Washoe County Jail in Reno Wednesday shortly before 11 p.m.
His defense lawyer, Alan Baum, said Higgs maintains his innocence.
“He’s a caregiver, not a life-taker,” Baum told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The extradition comes a day after authorities exhumed the body of Augustine’s previous husband, Charles Augustine, who died in 2003 at the age of 63.
His death certificate listed complications from a stroke, but family members say they suspect he was another victim of foul play at the hand of Higgs.
Higgs had cared for Charles Augustine at a Las Vegas hospital, then married Kathy Augustine in Hawaii three weeks after her husband’s death.
Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy said a detailed analysis of Charles Augustine’s tissue samples could take weeks or months.
Baum said he had been representing Higgs in the case for months, handling media inquiries and helping him take care of family business while an investigation into the death continued.
He said he’s considering asking a judge to move the case away from Reno because of all the pretrial publicity.
“I don’t know if there’s any less publicity of the case in other counties in Nevada,” Baum said.
“That’s going to be one of our initial inquiries as to whether there is a place we could recommend to the court that might be easier to draw a jury pool given as much media as this case has been getting,” he said.
Kathy Augustine died at a Reno hospital three days after she was rushed there. Tests revealed traces of a powerful muscle relaxant, succinylcholine, in her system. The drug, which paralyzes respiratory muscles, is used by medical personnel to allow the insertion of breathing tubes while patients remain conscious.
At the time of her death, Kathy Augustine was campaigning for state treasurer. She had been impeached by the Nevada Assembly, convicted by the Senate for using state equipment on her 2002 campaign and censured, but she had not been removed from office.
Baum said Higgs welcomes the exhumation in Las Vegas.
“If it will help in the pursuit for the truth, we’ve got no problem with that,” Baum told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Chaz is not responsible in any way for Charles Augustine’s death, and we are not afraid of the results. It’s morbid, but let’s clear the air.”