Image: Chaz Higgs
Marilyn Newton  /  AP
Chaz Higgs testifies during cross-examination in his murder trial Thursday in Reno, Nev.
updated 6/29/2007 6:17:35 PM ET 2007-06-29T22:17:35

The husband of the late state Controller Kathy Augustine was convicted Friday of killing her by injecting her with a paralyzing drug that FBI experts detected in her system months after her death.

Chaz Higgs, a critical care nurse, was convicted of first-degree murder two days after attempting suicide for the second time since Augustine’s death last July. He faces up to life in prison without parole.

Higgs, 43, stood still as the verdict was read in Washoe County District Court, hands clasped in front of him, eyes toward the floor. Relatives of Augustine clapped their hands together once.

“I’m very happy with the verdict,” Dallas Augustine, Kathy Augustine’s daughter from a previous marriage, told reporters. “It’s a good point of closure for me. I can move on with my life now, and he can spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

Defense attorney David Houston said Higgs’ suicide attempt didn’t help his defense.

“Good facts, bad jury,” Houston said.

The jury was scheduled to take up the penalty phase of the trial later Friday.

'Did it wrong'
Higgs has said he loved Augustine and blamed the stress of her political career for their failed marriage and her ultimate death. At the time she died she was running for state treasurer as a Republican, trying to salvage a once-promising political career after being censured as controller by state lawmakers but not removed from office.

Higgs had testified Thursday that he slit his wrists Tuesday because he thought he had cleared his name in earlier testimony and wanted to be with his wife in death.

He had been free on $250,000 bail until the latest attempt to kill himself, then was jailed under suicide watch.

Police said Higgs injected Augustine before calling 911 from their Reno home on July 8. Thanks to a tip from another nurse, forensic scientists at an FBI lab in Quantico, Va., confirmed the presence in Augustine’s urine of succinylcholine, a drug used to temporarily paralyze patients before inserting a breathing tube.

The defense maintained that Augustine died of a heart ailment, as doctors initially believed. But the day after she died, a co-worker told police that Higgs had made suspicious remarks to her about the best way to get away with killing someone.

Kim Ramey testified at the two-week-long trial that Higgs told her he intended to divorce his wife and went on to refer to another high-profile murder trial pending in Reno that the suspect “did it wrong” by using a knife.

“’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 gestured as if squeezing a syringe.

'Almost like television'
The testimony was key to the prosecution’s case.

“Without Kim Ramey and her statement ... this case is never here,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Tom Barb said.

Judge Steven Kosach had told Higgs at the preliminary hearing in March: “I hate to say this, but the comments you made to Ms. Ramey, if someone heard that, they would say, ‘Oh, wow.”’

“It’s almost like television,” the judge said.

Higgs told the jury that he was uncomfortable in the political spotlight and had decided to leave Augustine once she began planning to run for state treasurer.

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