Nev. Man Charged With Poisoning Wife

** FILE ** Chaz Higgs, husband of Nevada's impeached state controller Kathy Augustine, speaks to the media in Carson City, Nev., in this July 10, 2006, file photo.
AP/Nevada Appeal, Brad Horn, File
The husband of the late State Controller Kathy Augustine was arrested in Virginia Friday and charged with murdering her after an FBI toxicology test found a paralyzing drug in her system.

A warrant charging Chaz Higgs with first-degree murder was issued this week in Reno after a coroner's autopsy and results of toxicology tests found succinylcholine in Augustine's system; police described the drug as a powerful paralytic. The warrant and test results had been kept secret until Higgs' arrest.

Higgs, 42, was arrested in Hampton, Va., where he had apparently driven to visit his father and stepmother, Reno police said.

Augustine, 50, died in a Reno hospital July 11, three days after Higgs, a critical care nurse at another hospital, said he found her unconscious in her Reno home.

Higgs told reporters she died of a massive heart attack. But police said Augustine had no history of heart problems and that the autopsy did not suggest she had heart disease.

Three days after her death, Higgs tried to commit suicide. He was released from a hospital later that day, and didn't attend his wife's funeral the following day.

Investigators said medical experts told them that the drug found in Augustine's system paralyzes muscles within several minutes, including those used for breathing. The drug is used in hospital operating rooms, emergency rooms and intensive care units to help place breathing tubes in patients, they said.

Reno homicide investigators went to the hospital where Augustine was admitted after receiving an anonymous telephone tip that her death might not be accidental.

Higgs has vehemently denied having anything to do with his wife's death. The night before attempting suicide, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he welcomed the police investigation.

"My wife was a healthy 50-year-old woman who dropped dead. I want to find out what happened," he said. "People don't know what went on in our home. She was frazzled and stressed out."

Higgs had been the nurse for Augustine's previous husband, Charles Augustine, who died three years ago in Las Vegas. His death certificate says he died of complications from a stroke.

Three weeks after her husband's death, Kathy Augustine married Higgs in Hawaii.

Greg Augustine, Kathy Augustine's adult stepson, has said he wants his father's remains exhumed and an autopsy conducted if the FBI determines Kathy Augustine didn't die of natural causes.

Augustine was first elected in 1992 as a Republican state assemblywoman. She became state controller in 1999.

She was impeached by the Assembly and convicted by the Senate for using state equipment on her 2002 campaign, and was censured but not removed from office. Political leaders including Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn called for her to step down, but she refused.

She was running for state treasurer when she died. Elections officials didn't have time to remove her name from last month's primary ballot, creating a potentially embarrassing situation for the state had she won, but Republican voters chose Las Vegas businessman Mark DeStefano.