Nancy Kissel, the Merrill Lynch & Co. banker’s wife who won a retrial for his murder in Hong Kong, was convicted again unanimously and sentenced to life in prison yesterday, more than seven years after the crime.
A jury of seven women and two men rejected her defense that she was provoked or impaired by mental illness, instead accepting the prosecution case that the 46-year-old had planned the Nov. 2, 2003 drugging and killing of Robert Kissel, who headed Asian distressed assets divisions first at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and then at Merrill in the early 2000s.
The Michigan-born mother of three nodded to High Court Judge Andrew Macrae and sat silently in the dock when he delivered the mandatory sentence. Her lawyer asked Macrae to write to Hong Kong’s long-term review board and ask them to consider the emotional disturbance and psychological distress she has suffered in a case that attracted worldwide attention.
“She has been punished severely already by the loss of her husband, her children, her life,” Edward Fitzgerald told the judge. Kissel may seek to serve out her term in the U.S. under a treaty agreement between the two governments.
The U.S. expatriate’s journey from a $20,000-a-month apartment with a view of the South China Sea to a cell in a prison on the Chinese border spawned at least two books, U.S. network news specials and a Lifetime Television movie. Media coverage intensified after Robert’s millionaire real estate developer brother Andrew Kissel was stabbed to death in 2006.
Her 2005 murder conviction was quashed by Hong Kong’s top court last year when it ruled improper questioning and hearsay evidence had tainted the original proceedings. The retrial began on Jan. 11 after Kissel unsuccessfully argued she should be released because excessive media coverage made it impossible to conduct a fair retrial.
“The past few years have been a painful process of recovery, especially for the children,” Robert Kissel’s family said in a statement released after the verdict.
“Now that the trial is concluded we shall continue to help rebuild their lives.” The three Kissel children are now aged 17, 14, and 11 years, and live with Robert Kissel’s sister, Jane Clayton, in Seattle.
Clayton is pursuing civil claims in Hong Kong on behalf of the three children, according to lawyer Andrew Powner, in order to prevent Nancy Kissel from benefiting from the dead banker’s insurance policies which total $6.75 million according to prosecution evidence.
Wrapped in a Carpet
Police discovered Robert Kissel’s body four days after his death, wrapped in a sleeping bag and rolled up in a carpet inside a family storeroom after his Merrill colleague David Noh made a missing person’s report.
Prosecution lawyer David Perry argued the late investment banker was a victim of a “highly organized” wife who fell out of love with him and was having an affair with an electrical technician in Vermont. She obtained four prescription sedatives and blended them into a milkshake for her husband, Perry said.
Later that evening, while Robert Kissel lay incapacitated in their bedroom, she dealt five fatal blows to the right side of his head with an eight-pound lead ornament. An autopsy of the body showed no defensive wounds, and Perry called the defendant’s account of a struggle in their bedroom just before the killing, an attempt to “get away with murder.”
At 38 kilograms (84 pounds), Nancy Kissel required the assistance of two corrections officers to walk. She testified to physical and sexual abuse from her husband, describing being slammed against a glass panel and being forced into anal sex by a career-obsessed husband.
On the fourth day of her testimony, the judge took an early recess after the defendant screamed and wailed under cross examination, and said she could “see” her husband lying on the floor.
Kissel said on the stand she had no memory of events in the days following her husband’s death, during which she hid the body inside a carpet, ordered boxes from a moving company to pack up evidence, and instructed a domestic helper to buy peppermint oil to conceal the smell of decomposition. A psychiatrist attributed her memory loss to dissociative amnesia.
A defense lawyer, Colin Cohen, said her counsel would be reviewing all matters in relation to a possible appeal before giving their advice.
“Regardless of the huge disappointment in the verdict, there is relief for her that this intense pressure and having to constantly relive the event through the trial and testimony,” is behind her for the time being, said Nancy Kissel’s mother, Jean McGlothlin.
“She can get some rest for a while,” said McGlothlin, who said she was stunned by the jury’s decision.
Robert Kissel was a loving father who dearly loved his children and did his very best to provide for them and his wife, his family said in their statement.
“We all miss him so much.”
The case is HKSAR v. Nancy Ann Kissel, HCCC55/2010 in the Hong Kong Court of First Instance.
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