New trial sought in Augustine death case
Attorneys for Chaz Higgs, who was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathy
Augustine, asked the Supreme Court for a new trial Tuesday, arguing the FBI never provided them critical data on the methods used to determine her cause of death.
The FBI laboratory ruled Augustine’s death was caused by an injection of succinylcholine, a drug used in emergency rooms to paralyze muscles. It is most commonly used to paralyze the breathing muscles so that a tube can be inserted in a patient.
Higgs, a critical care nurse, was convicted of the murder last year based in large part on that FBI testimony. Augustine, who was state controller and running for the office of treasurer at the time of her death, was found comatose and not breathing in July 2006. Suspicious hospital personnel took blood and urine samples and froze them.
The tests were ordered after another nurse told authorities Higgs had told her after that the smart way to kill someone would be with succinolcholine.
The FBI technician testified she found the drug in Augustine’s urine.
Attorney David Houston told the court FBI officials basically refused to explain their methodology in testing for the drug to his expert, effectively preventing him from debunking their tests.
He referred to the FBI testing procedures as “junk science” and said Higgs should get a new trial in which his expert can have the same information the FBI had in judging the testing methodology.
But Terry McCarthy, arguing for the Washoe County District Attorney’s office, said Houston’s allegations are incorrect, that he was told to go ahead and ask the FBI for any information he wanted about the procedures used and to conduct his own testing to see if the methods used produced unreliable results. He said Higgs’ lawyers didn’t do it.
“He had months to test,” he said.
The high court took the case under submission.
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.