Higgs in Court

By: AP
By: AP

The husband of former Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine was bound over Thursday for a District Court trial on a charge of murdering Augustine last summer by injecting her with a hard-to-detect drug.

Chaz Higgs, a critical care nurse, was bound over by Reno Justice of the Peace Barbara Finley following a hearing at which another nurse testified Higgs told her that use of the paralyzing drug was a good way to kill someone. He faces a District Court arraignment within about two weeks.

Kim Ramey said she was "sickened" when Higgs talked about succinylcholine, called "sux" by medical workers, while the two were working at a Carson City hospital on July 7 - the day before Augustine was brought unconscious to a Reno hospital.

Ramey said Higgs, 42, told her how he was going to be divorced from Augustine, 50, and also talked about a highly publicized June 12 knifing death of a Reno woman whose estranged husband, Darren Mack, now faces a murder charge.

"That guy did it all wrong," Ramey quoted Higgs as saying. Ramey said Higgs then stated the best way would be to "just hit her with a little sux."

"I looked him in the face and I said, 'That's too much anger to carry around,' and the hair on my arm arose," Ramey testified.

"I was sickened that someone had that much anger to say something like that," she added.

The drug, which paralyzes respiratory muscles, is used by medical personnel to allow the insertion of breathing tubes while patients remain conscious.

Also testifying was Dr. Ellen Clark, a forensic pathologist who conducted Augustine's autopsy and found what appeared to be two
injection marks on Augustine's left hip. Clark said the drug showed
up in Augustine's urine, and she concluded the state official's death was due to succinylcholine poisoning.

Other witnesses included Marlene Swanbeck, a nurse who also had
worked with Higgs and was on duty at the Reno hospital when Augustine was brought in. Augustine remained comatose until her
death three days later.

Swanbeck described Higgs as "disengaged" and "not so much worried about his wife." She said Higgs was more interested in telling how he was unable to awaken his wife when he brought coffee to her in their bedroom and then called 911.

Higgs told police that Augustine was under stress because of her
campaign for state treasurer and had a heart attack. But Dr. Clark
testified there was no evidence of major heart disease.

An FBI medical analysis found both succinylcholine and succinylmonocholine, a breakdown product of the drug, in a urine
sample taken before Augustine died. Higgs' attorney, David Houston,
questioned the findings because the paralyzing drug was not found in any tissue or blood samples. The tests also showed the presence of barbiturates.

Houston said he intends to challenge the bind-over by Finley. He described the testimony Thursday against Higgs as weak, adding, "If that's the best it gets, we're looking forward to a trial."

Phil Alfano, Augustine's brother and one of several family members present at the preliminary hearing, said the family has had a tough time dealing with Augustine's death but "at least we're on the path to getting justice done."

"We're convinced Chaz Higgs murdered our sister," Alfano added.

While Houston has said the prosecution's case hinges on Ramie's
statement that Higgs spoke about succinylcholine as a perfect murder weapon, prosecutors said the evidence clearly points to Higgs. When he was arrested in Virginia in September, authorities found literature on succinylcholine in his vehicle.

Las Vegas authorities also are investigating the death of Augustine's third husband, Charles Augustine, 63. Higgs was his critical care nurse in 2003 when Charles Augustine died while recovering from a stroke.

Augustine had been impeached by the Nevada Assembly, convicted
by the Senate for using state equipment on her 2002 campaign for
state controller and censured, but not removed from office. She was
running for state treasurer because she was term-limited as controller.


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