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December 19, 2014

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Court issues full opinion in Kathy Augustine murder

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Kathy Augustine, shown in 2005, made enemies in her own party when she refused to give up her state controller’s post.

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Supreme Court has issued a full-fledged opinion rejecting the appeal of Chaz Higgs, convicted of the murder of former state Controller Kathy Augustine.

The court originally decided the appeal in May last year but the Nevada Justice Association, a group of lawyers, asked for a published opinion.

Higgs, an experienced nurse, is serving a 20-year to life term for the drug death of Augustine in July 2006. He was found to have administered a lethal dose of the drug succinylcholine, a paralytic drug.

The court said it is reaffirming the standard for admissibility of expert testimony in Nevada because there has been “considerable confusion and controversy” about the issue.

It upheld the decision of Washoe County District Judge Jerome Polaha, who permitted FBI toxicologist Madeline Montgomery to testify for the prosecution.

Higgs said Judge Polaha was wrong in permitting Montgomery to testify about the presence of succinylcholine in the urine of Augustine.

The court said the law gives the district judge discretion in deciding what factors are to be considered on a case-by-case basis in permitting expert testimony. In this case, the testimony of Montgomery helped the jury, it was limited to the findings of the test and she had a qualified background.

The court, as it did in its opinion last year, rejected the claims that the trial should have been continued and there was insufficient evidence to merit a conviction.

Higgs, 45, is serving his sentence at the High Desert State Prison in Clark County.

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