CARSON CITY — From rising political star to Nevada’s first impeached politician to a victim of murder, Kathy Augustine was a driven woman for whom normal was not the norm, one friend and colleague said Friday.
Comments about Augustine came as a Reno jury found the late controller’s husband, Chaz Higgs, guilty of her murder by injecting her with a paralytic drug.
Augustine was not one to have "normal or average" happen to her, said former state Sen. Sandra Tiffany, a fellow Republican who served in the Assembly with her in the 1990s.
"When Kathy first died, I was in shock," Tiffany said. "We immediately looked to stress or her health. But it wasn’t much longer before folks started stringing it together.
"I think she was very demanding and very driven," Tiffany continued. "She was probably not terribly tuned in to other people’s feelings, which leads to difficult relationships. But there are other ways to cope with a difficult person than murder. Like divorce. I’m glad they found him guilty."
Tiffany said she didn’t know Higgs well. When they would meet at political events, Augustine’s husband said nothing.
"He just stood there in those pumped-up shirts because he worked out all the time," Tiffany said. "He never said a word. There was no personality. He did not contribute or participate."
An Augustine acquaintance, former lieutenant governor candidate Barbara Lee Wollen, said the jury came to the right conclusion.
"Obviously there was a murder," she said. "It was obvious to 12 people on the jury that he was the only one with the opportunity to commit this murder."
Wollen said she got to know Augustine while they were both running for office in the 2006 election.
"Kathy looked at me as a protege and was giving me information to use in my campaign against Brian Krolicki," she said.
Krolicki defeated Wollen in the Republican primary and went on to win the office.
Augustine was running for Krolicki’s old job of treasurer, despite being brought up on three articles of impeachment by the Assembly in 2004 related to using her official office and staff for campaign work.
The Senate convicted her of one of the three and the least serious of the charges. Augustine was found to have used office equipment in the controller’s office to aid her 2002 re-election campaign. She was censured but not removed from office for the offense.
Wollen described the last few years of Augustine’s life as a "curious set of circumstances."
Augustine was getting death threats while running for treasurer and there were people of "high political rank" who wanted to get rid of her, she said.
Unfortunately, Higgs, for no real reason, accommodated that wish, Wollen said.
Wollen said it could have been her call to Higgs the night the family decided to turn off her life support that gave him the idea to use Krolicki as an explanation for what would ultimately be her death.
"I called Kathy’s cell and Chaz answered," she said. "I told him I had strong convictions that Kathy had been murdered, even though she was not yet dead. I said whatever you do, make sure there is an autopsy."
Wollen said she shared with Higgs that there had been threats made on Kathy’s life.
"He was kind of dumbfounded," she said. "Unbeknownst to me, he was the perpetrator."
Wollen said she congratulated the family on the conviction.
"If there is such a thing as the hereafter, I know Kathy is rejoicing in justice," she said.
Eric Herzik, chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Augustine came to him for advice when she was thinking about running for treasurer.
"I told her not to run but she was determined," he said. "That sums up her career. She was a very determined political creature."
Herzik said Augustine was a skilled politician and ran the controller’s office well.
Herzik said Augustine told him she was going to run on that record and that she could win the office if it wasn’t for the impeachment.
"I said yeah, but that’s a pretty big if," he recalled.
But that was also part of Augustine’s character, Herzik said.
"She felt she needed to vindicate herself," he said. "She really didn’t think she did anything worthy of impeachment."
But it was also obvious that she could rub people the wrong way, Herzik said.
"When the impeachment hit, it was obvious she had few friends," he said.KATHY AUGUSTINE DEATHNews, information