Widow faces new trial over 'milkshake murder'

Image: Nancy Kissel
Nancy Kissel trembled badly as she spoke in court Tuesday, needing to cling to the bars in the defendant box and lean on her lawyer.Marco Ling / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

An American housewife accused of drugging then clubbing her banker husband to death in Hong Kong seven years ago stood trial for murder for a second time Tuesday after the territory's highest court tossed out an earlier conviction.

Nancy Kissel was first convicted and received a mandatory life sentence in September 2005. Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal overturned the decision last February and ordered a new trial, ruling that prosecutors improperly cross-examined Kissel and that the trial judge allowed hearsay evidence.

The 47-year-old native of Adrian, Michigan, who remains in custody, pleaded innocent to the new murder charge Tuesday at Hong Kong's High Court, with both her parents in attendance. Wearing a blue shawl over a gray cardigan, she trembled badly as she spoke, needing to cling to the bars in the defendant box and lean on her lawyer. Her words were barely audible, and the judge had to repeat what he heard and seek Kissel's confirmation.

Kissel's fate will be decided by a jury of five men and four women selected Tuesday morning. High Court Judge Andrew Macrae ordered jurors to ignore news coverage of the previous trial and to refrain from doing their own research on the Internet.

Macrae said previous press coverage was often "angled" or "slanted" to attract readers or simply factually wrong.

"You must put out of your minds anything you may have seen or heard about this case in any medium," he said, urging jurors to keep a "fresh, open mind" and only consider evidence given in the new trial.

Kissel's first trial grabbed headlines around the world with its juicy detail on the breakdown of a wealthy expatriate marriage in this southern Chinese financial hub. It spawned two books and a TV special.

Metal ornament
Prosecutors alleged that Kissel carefully plotted her husband Robert's murder in November 2003, first drugging him with a milkshake laced with sedatives and then bludgeoning his head with a metal ornament. Kissel said she killed her husband in self-defense after he attacked her with a baseball bat and tried to rape her.

While prosecutors portrayed Robert as a loving father, his wife said the former investment banker for Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch was a heavy drinker and cocaine user who was frequently sexually abusive. She also acknowledged having an affair with an electrician who worked at the couple's vacation home in Vermont.

Former British colony Hong Kong maintains separate political, economic and legal systems from mainland China as part of its special semiautonomous status.

Kissel's lawyers had asked Macrae to throw out the retrial altogether, arguing a fair retrial was impossible, but he rejected the request in November.