Hong Kong court overturns American’s murder conviction

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s highest court today overturned the murder conviction of an American expatriate in a stunning reversal and ordered that she be retried on charges she drugged her husband with a laced milkshake and bludgeoned him to death more than six years ago.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal ruled that prosecutors improperly questioned Nancy Kissel during the trial and that the judge wrongly allowed hearsay evidence. But the five-judge panel ordered that she be kept in custody pending a bail application ahead of her second trial.

The 45-year-old mother of three, who lost an earlier appeal of her conviction, smiled broadly when Chief Justice Andrew Li announced the ruling.

A friend of Kissel, Nancy Nassberg, told reporters that the defendant was “elated.” She said Kissel’s parents were unable to travel from the U.S. for the hearing but had been notified of the result.

“I’m proud, very proud of Nancy. She was a good wife. She is a great mother, a great daughter, a great sister and a great friend,” Nassberg told reporters. “We think justice is served.”

Kissel — a native of Adrian, Michigan, whose family has also lived in Minneapolis — has been serving a life sentence since she was convicted in September 2005.

The Kissel trial generated headlines with its graphic details about the breakdown of a wealthy expatriate couple’s marriage. American Robert Kissel was an investment banker at the Hong Kong offices of Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, earning $5.25 million in the three years before his death, according to court documents. The couple lived in a luxury apartment complex nestled in the mountains of Hong Kong Island and hired two maids.

Prosecutors argued that Kissel planned her husband’s murder on Nov. 2, 2003, first feeding him a milkshake laced with a cocktail of drugs, then bashing him on his head with a metal ornament when he was drowsy from the drink. She later asked workers to move her husband’s body — wrapped in a sleeping bag and a carpet — to a storeroom in their apartment complex.

Kissel said her husband confronted her about a divorce, threatened to take away their children, attacked her with a baseball bat and tried to have anal sex with her. She said she killed him in self-defense.

The Court of Final Appeal sided with Kissel on two grounds — the manner in which prosecutors cross-examined her at trial and the relevance of testimony that her husband confided to others that he feared for his life.

Kissel’s lawyers argued that prosecutors broke the law by asking her about material presented during her first bail hearing — information they said should have been off limits at trial because of a law meant to allow defendants to seek bail without fear of incriminating themselves. Kissel was granted bail on the argument that she was mentally fit to be released. But she then said during the trial she suffered from memory loss. Prosecutors tried to highlight the inconsistency.

“The persistent and vigorous cross-examination of the appellant was carried to such lengths as to generate a real risk of prejudicing unfairly the appellant in the eyes of the jury,” the judges said.

The justices also said the trial judge erred in allowing one of Robert Kissel’s friends and a private detective he hired to testify that he expressed worries that his wife may be plotting his murder. The “prejudicial” nature of that evidence outweighs its relevance in establishing Robert Kissel’s views on his marriage, they said.

“It is plainly in the interests of justice that there should be a retrial,” the judges said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how soon a retrial would take place. Hong Kong’s Department of Justice said it will issue a new murder indictment but didn’t say when.

Even before the death, the Kissels’ marriage was already in disrepair, trial testimony revealed. Nancy Kissel admitted that she had an affair with an electrician who worked at the couple’s vacation home in Vermont. Suspicious of his wife, Robert Kissel installed spying software on his wife’s computer and hired a private detective to monitor her in Vermont.

She accused him of alcohol and cocaine abuse and demands for anal and oral sex.

The couple’s three children are in the custody of Robert’s sister, Jane Kissel Clayton, who lives in the U.S.

Although Hong Kong, a former British colony, is now ruled by China, it has kept a separate legal system and maintains its own courts.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Car crashes into Everett apartment, displacing residents

No one was injured in the crash late Friday, according to Everett police.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Most Read