May 21, 2009 - 9:00 pm
CARSON CITY — Chaz Higgs’ conviction for murdering his wife, state Controller Kathy Augustine, has been upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court.
“Fantastic,” said Augustine’s daughter, 28-year-old Dallas Augustine, when she learned of the decision Wednesday. “I am very happy about it.”
In a 5-2 ruling, justices found there was ample evidence to prove Higgs, now 44, murdered Augustine, 50, by injecting her with succinylcholine, a paralytic drug used in hospital emergency rooms.
Higgs was a critical care nurse for several hospitals in the Reno-Carson City area. Other nurses testified during his 2007 trial that he had access to the drug.
The couple had been married three years at the time Augustine was rushed unconscious to a Reno hospital on July 8, 2006.
Higgs told doctors and nurses, some of whom he had worked with, that she had suffered an apparent heart attack brought on by the stress of her campaign for state treasurer. She died three days later at Washoe Medical Center.
But samples tested by the FBI National Crime Laboratory found traces of succinylcholine in Augustine’s urine.
Fellow nurses described Higgs as an excellent nurse who had saved many patients’ lives.
But they also testified that he confided in them his distaste for Augustine and that he began a flirtatious relationship with a hospital employee.
Higgs received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
Justices Nancy Saitta and Michael Cherry dissented from the majority decision. They said Higgs improperly was denied a motion to continue the trial at a later date.
Higgs had sought a delay saying one of his expert witnesses did not have time to review the FBI report that found succinylcholine in Augustine’s urine.
Although conceding that Higgs’ lawyer had the report for 24 weeks before the trial, Saitta said the expert did not consider it complete and he was one of the nation’s few experts on succinylcholine.
But the majority of justices found that the expert was not prevented from testifying at trial and that he had testified at a pre-trial hearing.
Regardless of the issue, justices said there was more than enough circumstantial evidence to prove Higgs killed his wife by the injection of succinylcholine.