By Hoda Kotb Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/29/2007 6:49:26 PM ET 2007-08-29T22:49:26
TRANSCRIPT

Originally aired Dateline NBC Aug. 29.

There are mountains and valleys, deep lakes and high desert.

There are the darkest of nights and the brightest of lights.

One the fastest growing areas of the country, the Reno-Lake Tahoe-Carson City area of Nevada is full of contrasts.

It is beautiful and brash, in-your-face, on the move, looking ahead and self-confident.

And a woman who wielded power at the highest levels of government personified the place.

(KRNV-TV interview)
Kathy Augustine: Yes, I am a tough boss, I pride myself in the work that we've been able to accomplish.

She made her mark here and attracted attention right until the end.

Reno likes to call itself "the biggest little city in the world." This used to be the spot where Hollywood celebrities would come for a quickie divorce. Now it is the setting for a bizarre saga that could have been pulled from a Hollywood screenplay.

It's a story of power, ambition and enemies. Investigators say it's also a story of murder, what they believe could have been the perfect crime -- if not for one slip of the tongue.

The photos say it all. She was a prominent politician poised for an even brighter future. She posed with President Bush, with the First Lady, with the president's father, and Vice President Cheney.

Nevada state controller Kathy Augustine put herself front and center almost any chance she could get.

(KRNV-TV interview)
Kathy Augustine: Well, I have to be confident. I have to have a positive attitude.

Victoria Campbell (KRNV-TV): She was tough. And that was evident just upon meeting her. Firm handshakes. Looked you straight in the eye.

KRNV-TV reporter Victoria Campbell covered Kathy Augustine's career for years.

Victoria Campbell: Kathy Augustine was ambitious and tenacious and driven.

But when it came to her personal life, Kathy wasn't nearly as much in control, and the sorrow sometimes showed.

Victoria Campbell: When Kathy Augustine spoke, and she smiled, it was a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.

She started life as a California girl. Born Kathy Alfano in the Los Angeles area, she grew up in the '60s and '70s. Phil Alfano admired his big sister.

Phil Alfano: She certainly pushed herself. She was salutatorian and participated in associated student bodies.

That taste of student government soon developed into a passion for politics. In college, she majored in political science and won a coveted internship on Capitol Hill.

But after graduation, she took a more traditional route for a time. She went to work for an airline in crew scheduling and briefly as a flight attendant.

She traveled across the country, but the high flying may have come with a price.

One marriage failed and then another. Her brother says Kathy was always a bit naive when it came to relationships.

Phil Alfano: I think she could be too trusting of people. Some of the guys that she went out with were not what I'd describe as the as the best.
Hoda Kotb: What do you think drew her to the guys who didn't seem suited for her?
Phil Alfano: You know, I think it was just an impulsivity, I guess--
Hoda Kotb: Yes.
Phil Alfano: --would be the best way to describe it. I think she would regret it quickly.

And as she approached her thirtieth birthday, she was a single mother raising a daughter on her own.

Then, in 1988, a new man entered her life. He was a Delta Airlines pilot named Charles Augustine -- 15 years her senior.

When Kathy and Charles said "I do" it was his second marriage and her third. They lived in the Las Vegas area. And for a time, this marriage seemed built to last.

By the late '80s, though, her enthusiasm for politics came to the forefront once again.

Before long, Kathy Augustine was consumed by a newfound passion for the Republican party. Heidi Smith was Kathy's friend for two decades:

Heidi Smith: Kathy soon became addicted and she loved it. She loved the fight. She loved the pushing to get ahead and she just went for it.

In 1992 she was elected to her first public office, the Nevada assembly. The state senate followed. Then, in 1998, she got her most powerful job yet: Nevada state controller.

Heidi Smith: Kathy was a bill collector for the state. That requires somebody with a steel spine. She collected a lot of bad debt. You don't do that by being a sweet little thing.

While some state workers say you could hear the sound of her laughter booming through the hallways...

Victoria Campbell: I think some of her employees and people who also worked in the state capital building remember too that you could hear her shouting at her employees all around that building.

There was turmoil away from the capital, too. Charles Augustine hardly relished the role of political spouse. Over time, the marriage faltered.

Greg Augustine (Charles' son): I think at the end when she was the controller, I think that's-- that was it.

Kathy and Charles Augustine eventually decided on a divorce, but he was certainly not pushing for it, and neither was Kathy's family.

Phil Alfano: Chuck was a great guy. And our family, we all got along very well with him.
Hoda Kotb: Did you try to convince her not to break it off?
Phil Alfano: I did. Yeah.

And then, later in 2003, fate intervened. Charles Augustine suffered a stroke. Kathy spent long hours by his bedside. For a time he seemed to improve.

But after weeks in the hospital, Charles Augustine took a sudden turn for the worse. He suffered massive organ failure and died.

Greg Augustine: And this was a total shock. Because just days before we were talking about rehabilitation and we were talking about who's going to take care of this person.

It turns out that Charles Augustine would not rest in peace. For Kathy Augustine, Charles' death would be just the beginning of a bizarre chain of events.

She would marry again, but when settling into her new life storm clouds would gather. Enemies -- and a murder investigation -- loomed on the horizon.

As Nevada's casinos were doing record business in late 2003, State Controller Kathy Augustine was bouncing back from the death of her third husband, Charles, and taking a gamble on a new man named Chaz Higgs.

Phil Alfano: She just kept describing him as this -- just this wonderful person … very compassionate and caring. And had swept her off her feet.

The way they met was anything but ordinary. It was here at a Las Vegas hospital where Chaz, a registered nurse eight years Kathy's junior, was helping to care for her husband Charles. Like Kathy, he'd been married before, and had one daughter.

To many people, the pairing seemed a bit odd.

Heidi Smith: I mean, Chaz, with his spiked hair, wouldn't do well at a political cocktail party to raise money … I don't think in the whole time I knew Chaz I heard him say more than four or five sentences.
Hoda Kotb: Did you guys used to scratch your heads, thinking "What are those two...
Heidi Smith: Never asked...
Hoda Kotb: … doing together?"
Heidi Smith: But yeah, well, girls will be girls. We used to talk a lot, yes.

Chaz Higgs and Kathy Augustine in June, 2006
Chaz Higgs and Kathy Augustine in June, 2006
Especially when Chaz and Kathy said "I do" in a Hawaiian ceremony. The date? Just three weeks after Charles died.

Phil Alfano: My wife and I were shaking our heads, saying "This shouldn't have happened this quickly."

But as 2004 rolled around, whispers about Kathy Augustine's private life were drowned out by the roar of a public scandal.

(KRNV-TV interview)
Kathy Augustine: I think that both sides of the story have to be told and resigning was not an answer.

Kathy Augustine's hard-charging style had transformed some state employees into bitter enemies. That spring they lashed out at their boss, accusing Augustine of forcing them to work on her 2002 campaign on state time -- a violation of the state's ethics rules. She denied the allegations.

Kathy Augustine became the first official in Nevada history to be impeached.

She was convicted on one charge, but acquitted of two others. She paid a $15,000 fine. The governor asked her to resign from office, but she refused and even insisted she would have no trouble working again with the very employees who wanted to bring her down.

(KRNV-TV interview)
Kathy Augustine: After everything I've been through. I certainly, certainly can handle a little animosity.

Heidi Smith: I always gave her credit for continuing forward, even though she'd made some bitter enemies.

And enemies or not, in 2006, Kathy Augustine felt confident enough to run for still another important statewide office: Nevada treasurer.

But all of her hard-charging ambition was about to be stopped in its tracks.

On Saturday, July 8, Kathy was scheduled to attend a fundraiser, but she never showed up.

Heidi Smith: I went out there. She wasn't there. I came home to give her a call and chew her out.

She wasn't home because in the early morning hours, Kathy had stopped breathing. Her husband Chaz Higgs says he found her on the bed and called 911.

(911 call)
Higgs: Something's wrong with my wife … She's not breathing … I don't know what happened to her.
911: She's not breathing at all?
Higgs: Not breathing at all.

Video: The morning his wife died (on this page) Higgs said he thought she may have had a heart attack and that he administered CPR but the efforts may have come too late. Later, he spoke to reporters.

(Chaz Higgs press conference)
Higgs: I went in to try and wake her up, I couldn't get her to wake up and I checked her out, it was like an instinct, because as I said I'm a critical care nurse, so it's something I've dealt with before, I just checked her out, she wasn't breathing, she had no pulse, so I started CPR.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Kathy Augustine was in a deep coma. Chaz called Kathy's mother in California.

Phil Alfano: He told my mother that Kathy had had a heart attack and my mom said, "Well, you know, we'll be up there right away." And he said, "Well, no, there's no need for you to come up."
Hoda Kotb: No need for you to come up?
Phil Alfano: No need for her mother to come up and see her in the hospital
Hoda Kotb: That was weird.

Chaz told reporters he thought his wife Kathy may have fallen victim to the stress of hard work and long days.

(Chaz Higgs press conference)
Higgs: She came to work every day ... Did her job as she would here, and then after work she would go to one or two events in the evening, so getting in late at night...

Could it have been stress? Doctors didn't know for sure, but Kathy's brother found that theory hard to believe.

Phil Alfano: The last couple of times I saw Kathy, I had never seen her happier.

When it became clear that Kathy would not recover, her family made the decision to terminate life support. Three days after that 911 call, Kathy Augustine, the tough, determined public servant, lost the fight of her life. She died without ever regaining consciousness.

Phil Alfano: We lost somebody who was a big part of our lives that we'll never have back.

Speculation was rampant even before Kathy Augustine was buried. When her autopsy was complete, the results raised as many questions as they answered.

Victoria Campbell: No evidence of a heart attack, no evidence of heart damage, no blockage, no evidence the heart muscle had died.

If a heart attack didn't kill Kathy Augustine -- then what did?

There was even more troubling information from the autopsy. Evidence, perhaps, that when it came to Augustine's death there was nothing natural about it at all.

On July 15, 2006, Nevada State Controller Kathy Augustine was laid to rest. A pall of grief hung over the mourners, but so did a pall of suspicion.

Questions were swirling across the state. Had a heart attack killed her? Or was it something more sinister?

Word had spread about an unsettling discovery during her autopsy -- a mysterious mark on Kathy's left hip. It was a possible injection site that had no medical explanation. Could that be the cause of Kathy's mysterious collapse? And if so, who could have done it? And how?

Certainly, Kathy had made her share of political enemies. Her friend Heidi Smith says the rumors were rampant.

Hoda Kotb: Like what? What were some of the ones kicked around by people?
Heidi Smith: That she had stepped on too many toes and had to be eliminated. We had rumors of every kind.

And some rumors hit much closer to home. At those funeral services, someone was noticeably absent: Kathy's husband Chaz. He had slit his wrists the day before the funeral.

Was this the action of a distraught, grieving husband, or could it have been a sign of something more?

Higgs recovered after a few days. But by then people were beginning to believe there was more to the story about the morning he called 911 than he was letting on.

Phil Alfano: I sat down with my mother and just told her, "I've got a gut feeling that he did something to her." And my mom said, "I've been thinking the same thing."

Police were becoming more suspicious than sympathetic.

Lt. Jon Catalano (Reno police department): Because of the suspicious circumstances surrounding Ms. Augustine's death we started taking a look at her husband.

As the police delved deeper into the marriage of one of the state's top officials, a more complicated portrait of Chaz Higgs began to emerge.

Before his life collided with Kathy Augustine's political rising star, Chaz Higgs had spent much of his career in the Navy. He trained as a Navy SEAL and spent 15 years as a medical corpsman. Along the way, there were three previous marriages and divorces and a string of bankruptcies.

Kathy's brother says he knew there were problems in the marriage.

Phil Alfano: I know that, at some point he had overdrawn their checking accounts pretty significantly. I also learned at some point Kathy asked him to leave and then took him back in.

And there was another incident Phil now says he wished he'd paid more attention to. Just months before Kathy died, Kathy called her brother sobbing while on a drive with Chaz.

Phil Alfano: She said, "Chaz is trying to kill us." Not "me" or "himself" but "both of us." And that he was driving very erratically.
Hoda Kotb: She sounded terrified?
Phil Alfano: She was hysterical. Yeah. Yeah. I had never heard her that upset before. You look back at it and you say, just .. You say (crying) "Is there more I could have done?"

Suspicion hung in the air. Turns out the very day Kathy Augustine died, police here in Reno received an intriguing phone call. It would change everything.

Victoria Campbell: A nurse calls, a fellow nurse of Chaz Higgs, and says, "You know, I think you need to know something."

That nurse met Chaz Higgs for the first time at this hospital the day before Kathy Augustine was stricken. The nurse said Chaz made an off-hand comment about a murder case in the news involving a husband accused of stabbing his estranged wife.

Detective David Jenkins: He described the suspect as stupid for having committed the murder in the manner in which he had.

The tipster, nurse Kim Ramey, told police Higgs said there was a much better way to commit murder.

Det. David Jenkins: And then made specific reference to succinylcholine as a drug that would have been much wiser to have used because it was virtually undetectable.

Succinylcholine. If used correctly, it paralyzes respiratory muscles to allow the insertion of breathing tubes. But it is a powerful drug that if mis-used can cause organ failure and even death. It quickly dissipates from the bloodstream and leaves few traces.

Police launched a full-blown investigation. They quietly requested an arrest warrant and sent Augustine's blood and urine samples to the FBI crime lab in Virginia.

Two months later, the FBI lab confirmed that Kathy Augustine had succinylcholine in her urine. In September 2006 Chaz Higgs was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Higgs pleaded not guilty.

Hoda Kotb: Your first reaction when the cops busted him?
Phil Alfano: Relief.

But if Kathy Augustine did die by an injection of succinylcholine, it's even more disturbing to everyone who knew her because the effects on the victim are so terrifying.

Greg Augustine (Kathy's stepson): It saddened me a lot to think that she was possibly given a drug that paralyzed her internal organs, so she suffocated and starved her brain and heart of oxygen. I can't think of a worse way to go.

But Kathy's suspicious death got Greg Augustine thinking about another sudden death -- that of his own father, Kathy's third husband Charles. When Charles died from complications of a stroke in 2003, Greg assumed his father had simply taken a turn for the worse.

But now he wondered: Was there a chance his father's death was not due to natural causes?

In light of Kathy Augustine's death and the murder charges against Chaz Higgs, Greg Augustine set out demanding answers to his father's death. What really happened to his dad Charles? Could he have been killed the same way Kathy Augustine allegedly was?

Greg Augustine: Any prudent person would have to go through the decision to exhume their father. Because Chaz was his nurse in the hospital.

Three months after Kathy died, Greg had his request honored. Police in Las Vegas exhumed Charles Augustine's body to see if he also had succinylcholine in his system. Greg and the police waited for answers as Chaz Higgs prepared to stand trial for his wife's murder.

(Opening statement of trial)
Prosecutor Chris Hicks: Chaz Higgs is a calculated murderer who used his trade to accomplish his goal of getting rid of his wife.

Chaz Higgs' trial began in June in this Reno courtroom. It would be the very first murder case for prosecutor Christopher Hicks, who along with veteran district attorney Tom Barb hoped to convince the jury that Chaz Higgs had deliberately killed his wife, Nevada state controller Kathy Augustine, by injecting her with a lethal drug.

Christopher Hicks: He took the time to load up a syringe full of
a devastating drug. He took the time to plan that and then to inject his wife with it. And then to stand there while she basically suffocated.

To prove their case, prosecutors first had to show that succinylcholine killed Kathy Augustine.

The FBI toxicologist who tested Kathy's urine said she had no doubt that succinylcholine was in her system at the time of her death.

Toxicologist: I ran this urine sample three times. I found the drug there all three times.

Based on the FBI's findings, a pathologist determined the cause of death.

Pathologist: It is my opinion that Kathy Augustine died from succinylcholine toxicity.

But if the drug was in her body, how -- and when -- did it get there? The pathologist pointed to a mark on Kathy's left hip as a possible injection site and said there was no evidence that it had occurred in the course of Kathy's hospital treatment.

Therefore, the prosecutors argued, the mark must have happened before Kathy went to the hospital.

As for the early theory that Kathy had suffered a heart attack, the prosecutors attempted to knock that down by putting a cardiologist on the stand.

Cardiologist: You can say those arteries are perfectly normal. This is not what you'd expect of if someone were having a heart attack.

The prosecutors may have established succinylcholine as the cause of death, but they still needed to connect Chaz Higgs to the murder weapon. The big hurdle? There was no "smoking gun" -- no hard evidence linking Higgs to the drug.

Tom Barb: We wished we had the syringe. And we wished we had the bottle of succinylcholine … But we didn't. So you go with what you have.

What prosecutors did have, they argued, was proof that Chaz knew what succinylcholine was and how to use it.

Detective David Jenkins told the jury about a startling discovery: a stack of index cards and on top were some instructions for using succinylcholine.

Prosecutor: Do you know where it was found?
Det. Jenkins: In the motor vehicle Mr. Higgs was operating.

And several nurses testified that Chaz Higgs had ample access to succinylcholine as a critical care nurse.

Prosecutor: Was that drug readily available to the nurses in the emergency room?
Nurse: Yes it was.

Chaz may have had access to the drug, but why would he want to kill his wife?

Friends always thought the two were kind of an odd couple, but prosecutors were about to show that cracks in the marriage ran far deeper than they imagined -- and that Chaz Higgs was a long way from a loving husband.

Chris Hicks: This is a guy who does not care whatsoever about his wife. He hates her. And it's evident by his actions.

A series of Chaz's co-workers took the stand. They all had the same story: Chaz could not stop talking about how much he hated his wife.

Prosecution: What did he say, you can say it?
Winifred Baker: "Bitch."

Tina Carbone: The only word I heard Chaz say was that she was a bitch.

Katherine Almaraz: He said to me, I actually remember it because it was so vivid, that if I didn't have a daughter in Las Vegas I would kill my wife and throw her down a mine shaft.

And prosecutors said that Chaz demonstrated that same contempt for Kathy on the morning of her collapse.

(911 tape)
Higgs: Something's wrong with my wife. She's not breathing.

Prosecutors argued he was too calm.

(911 call)
Higgs: If you come in the housing development, umm, immediately turn right, and then the road will veer around to the left…

They said his actions in the ambulance were a far cry from the way a truly concerned husband would react.

Ambulance driver: We had a newspaper sitting on the dashboard and during the ride back he grabbed one of the sections of the newspaper and started flipping thru the pages.

And if he truly cared for, and wanted to help his wife, prosecutors argued, he would have acted differently when he found Kathy that morning.

When emergency responders arrived at the scene, they were surprised to find Chaz standing on the sidewalk, not frantically administering CPR. Even more alarming, Kathy was still on the bed. That was strange, said prosecutors, because standard procedure says you always put a victim on a hard surface to perform CPR -- something a registered nurse like Chaz Higgs should have known.

Nurse: You cant get a good compression on a bed. You need a hard surface.

Chris Hicks: We believe he sat there and waited until she was dead, and then called 911 so he could come off as the grieving husband. Which he did horribly at.

But some of the most dramatic testimony was yet to come. As prosecutors neared the end of their case, some startling new evidence came to light: e-mails from a woman named Linda Ramirez.

Ramirez used to work with Chaz, and it turns out while Chaz and Kathy were still married he began a flirtatious relationship with Ramirez.

(Prosecutor Chris Hicks reads in court)
"There's so much I want to tell you..."

Prosecutor Christopher Hicks read some of those emails to the court...

(Prosecutor Chris Hicks reads in court)
"You've touched my heart and I want to be with you"

And in those emails, there were some disturbing comments about Kathy.

(Prosecutor Chris Hicks reads in court)
"I hate this woman and I will make her break. So it is my quest in life to drive this bitch crazy and it is working. I will be free. And I will be with you. That is what I want. You have my heart, Chaz."

Chris Hicks: Those emails showed that he could care less about her.

Tom Barb: He didn't love anybody but himself.

In the end, prosecutors say he acted on that hate. As proof they offered up the conversation he had with Kim Ramey, the nurse who worked with Chaz the day before Kathy went into the hospital.

Ramey said she and Chaz were discussing that case in the news in which a husband had stabbed his wife to death. Ramey said Chaz told her the guy did it all wrong:

Ramey: If you want to get rid of someone you just hit them with a little sux because they cant trace it post-mortem.
Prosecution: What was your response to him?
Ramey: I said Chaz, I said wow, that's too much anger to carry around.

The prosecutors felt confident about their case, but now it was the defense's turn. Chaz Higgs would have the chance to tell the jury his side of the story.

In late June a devastating wildfire raged through south Lake Tahoe, while just 60 miles away in Reno, Chaz Higgs' defense team was preparing to put out another fire.

Prosecutors had already presented their case against Higgs, saying he had deliberately killed his wife by injecting her with a drug called succinylcholine.

Now it was the defense's turn. They would argue Chaz Higgs had no reason to kill his wife and that the prosecution hadn't presented any credible evidence that proved otherwise.

David Houston (defense attorney): Chaz was not a calculating murderer. He was not a murderer of any sort.

The defense began by picking apart the prosecution's scientific testimony, beginning with that mark on Kathy's left hip.

They called their own pathologist to the stand who said the wound looked too fresh to have happened before Kathy was rushed to the hospital.

(In court)
Defense: And in your opinion how many hours old … that call it a puncture wound was?
Pathologist: Up to 48 hours.

Kathy was in the hospital for nearly four days... So if the mark was only 48 hours old, the defense argued, it could not be the cause of Kathy Augustine's mysterious collapse.

Defense: That could not have been received by that person on July 8?
Pathologist: Highly unlikely that it could have been.

The defense also poked holes in the FBI's urine tests, portraying them as too sloppy to truly indicate whether succinylcholine was in Kathy's system when she died.

Houston: The FBI never created a proper control sample to test against Kathy Augustine's urine.

But the most persuasive bit of testimony may have come when, cross-examining the prosecution's anesthesiologist, defense attorney Houston demonstrated how long it would take to inject a syringe filled with succinylcholine into the body of an unwilling victim.

Houston: Doctor, if I'm doing that to a live conscious patient, what will they be doing while I'm doing that?
Anesthesiologist: I imagine the patient would be moving around.

Defense: Would it be fair to say it's going to burn or sting?
Anesthesiologist: Yeah

Houston: So the entire concept was to demonstrate to the jury how ridiculous it would be to believe that Kathy Augustine would lay there while her husband injects her with succinylcholine and it burns her as it goes in.

So then what did kill Kathy Augustine?

The defense revealed that Kathy suffered from a condition called "mitral valve prolapse," or a leaky heart valve. Though the prosecution had argued the condition could not lead to heart attack, on cross-examination the prosecution's cardiologist could not say it was impossible.

Thompson: Doctor, can you rule out sudden cardiac death as cause of death in this case?
Doctor: No.

Now that the defense had taken on the science of the case, it was time to take a crack at those allegations that Chaz Higgs was little more than a scheming playboy and a man who hated his wife so much that he planned and carried out her murder. It was time for Chaz Higgs to tell his side of the story.

All eyes were on him as he took the stand.

Chaz began by telling the court about the early, happy days of his relationship with Kathy.

Chaz Higgs: I guess the best way to describe it is when you meet somebody you just feel chemistry and that's what we had.

But, he said that over time, the stress of political life -- and especially that impeachment scandal -- took a toll on the marriage.

Chaz Higgs: After that started it was like she just closed off, she became very defensive for obvious reasons, very angry.

He said he tried to leave Kathy several times, but that over and over she begged him to stay.

Chaz Higgs: Just stay, just stay, just stay, I'll make it better. And what kept me there was I kept remembering what we had in the beginning.

And when it came to those flirtatious and occasionally angry emails Chaz wrote to a co-worker before Kathy died? He said they show not malice but sadness about the breakdown of his marriage.

Higgs: I was so frustrated. I had all these feelings for Kathy. And she had closed me off. It wasn't the right thing to do to reach out to someone else. But I did.
Houston: You said some pretty mad things in some of those emails about Kathy, right?
Higgs: I did. I was hurt. I was mad. I was venting.

Chaz said he encouraged Kathy to get out of politics and that he was convinced it was the only way their marriage could be saved.

Higgs: I loved her. I loved what we had. And that's what I wanted back.

But when she threw her hat into the ring for the state treasurer's race, he'd had enough.

Higgs: I was going to divorce her.

He said he broke the news to her on the evening of July 7 and that hours later he found her alone in her room and not breathing.

Houston: Did you wait any time to administer help or did you try to administer help immediately?
Higgs: I did it immediately.

He said he did all he could to save her, and that contrary to what the prosecution alleged, there was nothing suspicious about his failure to place her on the floor before performing CPR.

Defense: Why didn't you think to throw her on the floor?
Higgs: I didn't think about it. And I started doing it.

Chaz attributed the calm demeanor that the prosecution found so suspicious to his years of military and medical training.

Higgs: I was trained to focus. Because you're ineffective. You can't function if you have all this chaos going on.

Houston: Why should they believe you did not kill your wife?
Higgs: Because I didn't do it. I wouldn't do that.

Chaz said that if he bore any responsibility for his wife's death it was because his request for divorce was simply too much for the already stressed-out politician to take.

Higgs: That's why I tried to kill myself. I blamed myself.
Houston: Why?
Higgs: Because she had enough stress in her life. And what do I do but add the stress of wanting to divorce her.

As for the prosecution's star witness -- the nurse who said that Chaz told her succinylcholine was the perfect way to commit murder…

Houston: She claims you said something to the effect of he did it all wrong, should have just hit her with sux, do you remember saying that?
Higgs: No.

The fifth day of trial came to a close. Prosecutors Tom Barb and Christopher Hicks prepared to cross-examine the defendant the following morning.

Tom Barb: Chris and I almost had a fist fight over it … over who was going to get to do it.

But in the middle of the night there was an unexpected emergency.

(911 call)
Caller: 911?
911: Yes, what's your emergency?
Caller: I have an emergency.
911: What's going on?
Caller: Uh, someone's attempted to kill himself.

Chaz Higgs had slit his wrists.

Why try and kill himself? His attorney says the reason was simple.

David Houston: He told his story. And he wanted to die.

The prosecutor, however, had a different theory.

Tom Barb: It was his last shot at controlling the whole process … and I like to think he didn't want to talk to me.

Two days later, Chaz was back in court. His wrist bandages were on display and the prosecutor didn't waste any time trying to depict those very injuries as further evidence of Chaz's guilt.

Tom Barb (prosecutor): Could you understand that some people might think this was just a ploy for sympathy?
Higgs: Yes, sir, I completely understand that.
Tom Barb: Could you understand why people might think it was your consciousness of guilt?
Higgs: Yes I can understand that.

The prosecutor also attacked Chaz's claim that he didn't remember talking to nurse Kim Ramey about succinylcholine.

Tom Barb: You don't remember saying hit him with a little sux cause it cant be detected post mortem?
Higgs: No sir.
Tom Barb: All right then, tell me how Ms. Ramey could pick succinylcholine and then it happens to be found in your wife's urine. How'd she do that?
Higgs: I don't know, sir.

The prosecutor also picked apart Chaz's so-called love for his wife.

Prosecutor: She kept saying, please stay, please stay. Is that right?
Higgs: Yes.
Prosecutor: Why'd she have to beg you if you loved her?
Higgs: Sir, in my mind I had left.
Prosecutor: That's where the love for Kathy is too, isn't it? In your mind?

Now, as the trial came to an end, Chaz's attorney made one final attempt to knock down the prosecution's case. He insisted his client was no murderer and that he could not be convicted based upon merely circumstantial evidence.

Defense: They're going to ask you to make that significant leap, based upon speculation, based upon conjecture, based upon inadequate testing, based upon opinion that is not backed by either scientific or medical certainty.

As Chaz prepared for the case to go to the jury, he could be confident about one thing: the tests performed on Kathy's deceased husband Charles Augustine had already come in. There was no succinylcholine in his system. Chaz Higgs would not be charged in that death.

But now, Chaz's future rested in the hands of 12 jurors. When it came to the death of Kathy Augustine, would they find him guilty of murder?

After two weeks of testimony, Chaz Higgs' future was now in the hands of 12 jurors. It was up to them to decide whether or not Chaz had murdered his wife, Nevada State Controller Kathy Augustine, with an injection of a paralytic drug called succinylcholine.

We met with eight jurors. They all found the trial difficult to sit through.

Bob: It was extremely stressful. Extremely stressful.
Melinda: Many of us had sleepless nights. The evidence was hard too take.
Becky: Chaz, I-- his, you know, life was in my hands more or less. And I had to do a good job.

From the very first vote, it was clear that reaching a verdict would not be easy.

Tim: It was five guilty, five undecided, two not guilty.

All of the jurors said they discounted the defense's arguments that stress from her political life led to her death.

Melinda: She was doing something she loved. There was no stress there.

They also didn't believe a minor heart condition was to blame.

Bob: I don't think the heart was an issue for any of us.

But they still struggled to find the answer to the question: What killed Kathy Augustine?

Bob: I sincerely believe that the biggest issue was what killed her, what was the cause of death.

If it was succinylcholine, how did it get into her body?

Judy: I think that was preying on all of our minds. How did this succynlcholine get in her?

At least one juror was influenced by the defense's demonstration with the syringe.

Kent: I don't know if you've ever had a tetanus shot, and they give it to you in your hip right here. And as soon as they do your leg tenses up and the doctor says, "You have to relax. I can't get anything in." And that played on me. You know "How could you get that in her?"

Others called the defense's demonstration merely courtroom theatrics.

Kelly: We were never told how much succinylcholine it takes to poison a person. I think if you have any succinylcholine in you, you're in bad shape.

Chaz's off-hand remark to nurse Kim Ramey played big for the jury.

Bob: If it hadn't been for Kim Ramey's testimony, they would have never tested the urine.

Tim: Why would she make up a story like this?

And all of the jurors were disturbed by Chaz's indifference toward his wife.

Linda: Chaz did not show any emotion during the whole process of his wife being found dead and the ambulance, it was the same thing. Everyone described him as being totally unemotional. He was the same way with us. He didn't look at the jury.

He didn't make much of an impression on the stand, either.

Linda: He was totally unbelievable. He lacked such emotion that I couldn't believe him as a witness.

But the defense scored points by arguing Chaz had no motive to kill Kathy.

Kent: We weren't really presented with a motive, they just tried to say, "Well maybe this," and "Maybe that."

Bob: What was the motive to kill her? Why not just leave, leave the relationship? But it goes back to the personality of Chaz Higgs. You don't have to have a smoking gun. You have to connect the dots.

After eight hours of connecting those dots, the jurors announced that they had reached a verdict. Chaz Higgs was about to learn his fate.

(Clerk reads verdict)
We the jury find the defendant Chaz Higgs guilty of first-degree murder.

Chaz will now spend his life in prison with the possibility of parole in 20 years.

It's a lifetime to think about the life he was convicted of taking away, Kathy Augustine, the resilient, confident, driven leader.

And when all was said and done, for Kathy's family, after a year of anguish, there is some degree of peace.

Hoda Kotb: Who did you talk to in your head right when-- right after?
Phil Alfano: Kathy.
Hoda Kotb: What did you say?
Phil Alfano: Just, "We got him. He didn't get away with this."

Lawyers for Chaz Higgs have filed an appeal in the case.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: The morning his wife died

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments