Bail Set at $250K for Higgs in Augustine Murder

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Chaz Higgs, who has been jailed since September in the killing of his wife, ex-Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine, won a ruling Thursday that will allow his release on $250,000 bail if he stays in the state and remains in daily contact with his lawyers.

Higgs, an emergency room nurse who is accused of poisoning Augustine with a fatal injection of a paralytic drug in July, should be able to post bail next week and be released from the Washoe County Jail, said David Houston, one of his lawyers.

Higgs had been held without bail.

Washoe County District Judge Steven Kosach made the ruling at the conclusion of a 90-minute hearing in which he denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges due to a lack of evidence.

Higgs' lawyers suggested $150,000 bail while Washoe County Chief
Deputy District Attorney Tom Barb argued that if the no-bail order was lifted, it should be set at $5 million.

"There's overwhelming evidence Kathy Augustine was murdered and
Mr. Higgs was the murderer," said Christopher Hicks, an assistant district attorney.

Higgs pleaded not guilty to murder charges in December and is scheduled to stand trial in July.

Thursday's wide-reaching hearing included a detective's testimony about a Tom Clancy thriller, "The Teeth of the Tiger," in which the novelist wrote about an untraceable poison called succinylcholine - the drug that the FBI later found in Augustine's urine.

In an unusual aside, Kosach told Higgs he should be "proud" of his lawyers for their ability to "take a different spin on the evidence" to raise doubt about the prosecution's case.

But the judge said comments Higgs allegedly made to a fellow nurse the day before Augustine was rushed to the hospital were "damning in my mind."

Kosach was referring to testimony at a preliminary hearing from fellow nurse Kim Ramey.

Ramey said Higgs told her he was going to divorce Augustine and that Higgs had mentioned the highly publicized stabbing death of a Reno woman whose estranged husband is accused of killing her.

Ramey said Higgs told her, "That guy did it wrong."

"If you want to get rid of somebody ... hit them with a little `succs' because they can't trace it post-mortem," she quoted him as saying while he made a gesture as if squeezing a syringe.

Ramey said every nurse knows "succs" is succinylcholine, a drug used to temporarily paralyze a person before inserting a breathing tube.

"I hate to say this," the judge said to Higgs, "but the comments you made to Ms. Ramey, if someone heard that, they would say, `Oh wow."'

"It's almost like television," Kosach said.

Doctors initially believed Augustine had suffered a heart attack July 8. She fell into a coma and died July 11.

But acting on a tip, doctors took samples from Augustine before her death that could be preserved and tested later.

Houston and defense lawyer Alan Baum of Las Vegas argued Thursday that there was no proof that the drug killed Augustine and
no proof that it wasn't paramedics who injected her with it.

They said the wound the prosecution calls the injection site in her buttocks was only one-fourth inch deep, incapable of causing her death from a drug that normally is injected intravenously.

Reno Police Detective David Jenkins said under cross-examination that he had no scientific knowledge of how quickly the drug would paralyze someone but that "a published novel" goes into great detail.

Houston shot back, "You don't regard Tom Clancy as an expert for an investigation, do you?"

Jenkins said the novel "puts it out in public."

"And certainly Tom Clancy is regarded as someone who does substantial fact-checking," Jenkins said.

Houston and Baum said there was no evidence Higgs had access to
the drug, which is locked up at hospitals in Reno and Carson City where Higgs worked, and no evidence any of the drug was missing.

They said medical examiners didn't issue a cause of death until the FBI toxicology tests detected the drug and testimony from the FBI expert who conducted the tests had not been entered in the record.

"There is no evidence Chaz Higgs killed Kathy Augustine," Baum said.

Barb said the prosecution has "enough evidence now to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt."

"We have more, but we have enough now to convict him if we chose to rely on it," he said.

Augustine, 50, had been impeached by the Nevada Assembly. She was convicted by the Senate for using state equipment in her 2002 campaign for state controller and censured, but not removed from
office. When she died she was running for state treasurer because
she was term-limited as controller.

Three days after she died, Higgs attempted suicide in Las Vegas. He was released from a hospital later that day and didn't attend his wife's funeral.

He was arrested Sept. 29 in the driveway of his brother's home in Hampton, Va., after toxicology tests were complete.

Authorities also are investigating whether foul play was involved in the death of Augustine's former husband, Charles Augustine, 63, who was under Higgs' care when he died in 2003.

Higgs married Kathy Augustine three weeks after Charles Augustine's death.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)