Higgs Says He's Innocent, Loved Wife

By: Sandra Chereb AP
By: Sandra Chereb AP

The man accused of killing former Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine, his wife, testified Monday that he is innocent and that he loved her even though he had decided to leave her.

"We had our ups and downs, yes, we all do," Chaz Higgs said in a packed courtroom. "I loved her immensely."

Why, defense lawyer David Houston asked, should anyone believe he didn't kill her?

"I didn't do it," Higgs replied. "I wouldn't do that."

Higgs, 43, a critical care nurse, is accused of killing Augustine by injecting her with succinylcholine - a powerful muscle relaxant used to immobilize patients when breathing tubes are inserted. The defense contends she died of heart failure.

Higgs will face cross-examination when the trial resumes Tuesday. On Monday he told jurors how he met Augustine in 2003 while he was caring for her former husband, Charles, in a Las Vegas hospital.

After Charles Augustine died from complications from a stroke, Augustine invited him for coffee when she forgot to give him a thank you card as she had the others who tended to her dying husband.

"It was almost instantaneous," he said of their attraction. "You feel a chemistry. That's what we had."

They were married three weeks later in Hawaii.

But Higgs said he didn't like politics and was uncomfortable in the political arena - something his wife thrived in until her impeachment two years ago. She had been impeached by the Nevada Assembly, convicted by the Senate for using state equipment on her 2002 campaign and censured, but she had not been removed from office.

During the proceedings she became defensive, angry and cold, Higgs said. He said he told her he wanted a divorce many times, but she kept asking him to stay with her through the impeachment.

Higgs called an ambulance to the couple's Reno home on July 8 when he said he found her unresponsive in bed. She died three days later when she was removed from life support.

Doctors initially thought Augustine had suffered a heart attack. But Higgs was charged with murder when toxicology tests determined she had a powerful paralytic drug in her system, and authorities determined she died of succinylcholine poisoning.

Testimony during trial revealed Augustine had a heart condition, though its severity and whether it caused her death has been disputed by medical experts.

Prosecutors on Monday revealed that the day before Augustine died, Higgs signed papers at the Public Employees Retirement System designating himself as the beneficiary of her survivor benefits. Higgs said someone at the retirement agency called him after hearing of Augustine's dire condition and told him to come in to tend to paperwork.

At the time of her death, Augustine was campaigning for state treasurer, but without the support of the state Republican Party, which had repudiated her.

The impeachment process, Higgs said, destroyed her.

"They ruined her career. Politically, she was done," he said.

He said he made his decision to leave when Augustine told him she planned to run for treasurer.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors rested their case after their last witness, a woman who worked with Higgs, testified of flirtatious and suggestive e-mails the two exchanged before and after Augustine died.

Linda Ramirez was an admissions clerk for a brief time in early 2005 at the South Meadows hospital where Higgs worked before she was fired for sending personal e-mail to him using company computers, she said. Augustine had seen the e-mails and complained to her bosses, Ramirez said.

But Ramirez said she contacted Higgs later that year, and the two corresponded for several months.

In May 2006 he wrote that he was working on getting out of his marriage: "In June it's all going to happen," he said, according to testimony and documents.

Under questioning by co-defense lawyer Alan Baum, Ramirez said the relationship with Higgs was never physical, even though she suggested in one e-mail that they meet in a hotel room.

Higgs acknowledged the e-mails.

"I'm ashamed," he testified.

Three days after Augustine died, Higgs tried to commit suicide in Las Vegas. He was released the same day and did not attend his wife's funeral.

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


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