Higgs Released on Bail

By: Sandra Chereb AP
By: Sandra Chereb AP

Chaz Higgs was freed on bail Monday from the county jail where he has been held since September on charges that he killed his wife, former Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine, with a paralyzing drug.

Higgs was quickly escorted to a waiting car by five deputies and his attorney.

"He's very happy to be free," his lawyer, David Houston, said outside the Washoe County Jail in Reno.

Wearing jeans, a sweat shirt and carrying a plastic bag with what appeared to be his personal belongings, Higgs did not say much.

Asked what he planned to do first, he said, "Hug my mom."

He was reunited with his mother, Shirley Higgs, a short time later at his lawyer's office, Houston said.

"Upon arriving, we walked in and the first thing he did was hug his mom," Houston said. After a brief discussion with his lawyer, he was "gone on his way to enjoy a bit of freedom that he hasn't enjoyed in many months," Houston said.

Higgs' mother and father, who are divorced, each put up their homes on the East Coast to cover his $250,000 bail. The properties, Houston said, "are worth in excess" of the bond requirement.

Houston and co-defense counsel Alan Baum of Woodland Hills, Calif., said Higgs' mother is relocating to Reno from North Carolina to support her son pending his trial in June.

Washoe County District Judge Steven Kosach on March 1 set bail, with provisions that Higgs remain in daily contact with his lawyers and not leave the state. Higgs had been held without bail.

Augustine's family sharply criticized Kosach's order setting bail, calling Higgs a "psychopath" who should remain in jail.

Higgs, 42, an emergency room nurse, is accused of poisoning Augustine with a fatal injection of succinylcholine, a drug used to
temporarily paralyze a person before inserting a breathing tube.

Doctors initially believed Augustine suffered a massive heart attack before she was taken to the hospital July 8. She lapsed into a comma and died three days later.

Acting on a tip, doctors took samples from Augustine before her death that were later tested by the FBI toxicology lab.

Higgs attempted suicide in Las Vegas three days after Augustine's death. He was released from a hospital the same 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.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Tom Barb has said evidence clearly points to Higgs, and friends said Augustine had been preparing to divorce Higgs.

When Higgs was arrested in Virginia in September, authorities found literature on succinylcholine in his vehicle.

Higgs has pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

Houston said the defense "will be heavily stressing" expert witness testimony to determine if the drug was truly in Augustine's system and if so, who injected her.

During a hearing earlier this month, Houston and Baum argued 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.

Houston on Monday added that other witnesses reportedly made statements suggesting Augustine, a Republican controller who was
impeached by the Nevada Assembly, could have been killed by someone
else.

"It's our job to evaluate those statements and determine if there is any merit," Houston said.

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 Las Vegas in 2003.

Authorities exhumed his body after Higgs' arrest. Kathy Augustine and Higgs were married three weeks after Charles Augustine died.

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.

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


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