Published January 13, 2015
A man accused of killing his wife — former Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine — attempted suicide by slashing his wrists a day after testifying in his own defense, authorities said Tuesday.
Washoe County District Judge Steven Kosach suspended the trial after Chaz Higgs was found early Tuesday in a Reno apartment he shared with his mother, defense attorney David Houston said in court.
Houston said Higgs slit his wrists during the night with a knife and was taken to a Reno hospital. His injury did not appear life-threatening, Houston said.
Higgs, 43, had been expected to face tough questioning from prosecutors on Tuesday, after testifying Monday that he was innocent and that he loved Augustine even though he had decided to leave her.
Higgs, a critical care nurse, is accused of killing his 50-year-old wife by injecting her with succinylcholine — a powerful muscle relaxant used to immobilize patients before breathing tubes are inserted. The defense contends she died of heart failure.
The judge revoked Higgs' $250,0000 bail and ordered both sides to return to court Wednesday. He did not call a mistrial but said he would not rule out the possibility if Higgs' recovery is lengthy.
Houston insisted Higgs' suicide attempt wasn't motivated by a fear of cross-examination. He said it had been difficult for Higgs to relive his wife's death on the witness stand Monday.
"His goal was to clear his name and then to join his wife," Houston told reporters. "He felt he cleared his name yesterday."
Three days after Augustine died on July 11, Higgs tried to commit suicide in Las Vegas. He was released the same day and did not attend his wife's funeral.
Higgs testified Monday that 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 was impeached by the Nevada Assembly, convicted by the Senate of using state equipment on her 2002 campaign and censured, but she was not 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.
Last July 8, Higgs called an ambulance and said he had found her unresponsive in bed at their Reno home. 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 after 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.
He said he made his decision to leave when Augustine told him she planned to run for treasurer.