LAS VEGAS – The body of the second husband of slain Nevada state Controller Kathy Augustine was exhumed Tuesday so investigators can seek evidence that would show if he also died as a result of foul play.
About 25 police and coroner's officials watched as a backhoe lifted a pale blue casket from the grave of Charles Augustine.
Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy took the rare step of retrieving the body to perform an autopsy after Chaz Higgs was arrested and charged with using a paralyzing drug to kill Kathy Augustine.
Charles Augustine died three years ago at age 63. His death certificate listed complications from a stroke.
Murphy said a detailed analysis of Charles Augustine's tissue samples could take weeks or months.
Higgs, now 42, was Kathy Augustine's third husband. He is a nurse who cared for Charles Augustine at a Las Vegas hospital, then married Kathy Augustine three weeks after her husband's death.
Kathy Augustine, 50, died July 11 at a Reno hospital. Tests revealed traces of a powerful muscle relaxant, succinylcholine, in her system. The drug, which paralyzes respiratory muscles, is used by medical personnel to allow the insertion of breathing tubes while patients remain conscious.
At the time of her death, Kathy Augustine was campaigning for state treasurer. 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.
Higgs was arrested Sept. 29 in Hampton, Va., where he waived extradition and is awaiting transfer to Nevada to face a first-degree murder charge. His lawyer, Alan Baum of Woodland Hills, Calif., said authorities planned to transport Higgs on Wednesday to Reno, where his arraignment was set for Friday.
Although succinylcholine is difficult to detect, Clark County District Attorney David Roger has said authorities believe it can be found if it was injected into muscle tissue. It would be more difficult to find if it was administered intravenously.
Charles Augustine's son, Greg Augustine, 36, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., said in a telephone interview Monday that the exhumation was crucial to answer lingering questions about whether Higgs played a role in his father's death.
"It's necessary," he said. "It has to happen."