HONG KONG — Nancy Kissel has always maintained that she killed her investment banker husband in self-defense, fending off a physical and sexual attack, but a Hong Kong jury found her guilty four years ago of sedating him with a laced milkshake before bludgeoning him to death.
In a stunning reversal Thursday, however, the territory's highest court overturned that conviction, ordering a retrial in the case that has grabbed headlines and spawned a book and TV special with its lurid tale of adultery, drug use and sex abuse in the rarefied world of wealthy American expatriates.
Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal said that prosecutors had improperly cross-examined the 45-year-old mother of three during the trial and that the judge wrongly allowed hearsay evidence.
"It is plainly in the interests of justice that there should be a retrial," the five-judge panel said.
Kissel, who is four years into a life sentence, will remain in jail but can now apply for bail pending her new trial, the court said.
Kissel smiled broadly in court when Chief Justice Andrew Li announced the ruling. Her friends who attended the hearing also celebrated. "We think justice is served," Nancy Nassberg told reporters.
The case of Robert Kissel's murder has been documented in a book – which also examines the 2006 murder of his brother, Andrew Kissel, in Greenwich, Connecticut – and a special on CBS' "48 Hours Mystery." Robert worked for Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong, where the family lived in an exclusive apartment complex nestled in the mountains, attended to by two maids.
But trial testimony revealed a host of marital problems.
Nancy Kissel acknowledged that she had an affair with an electrician who worked at the couple's vacation home in Vermont. Suspicious of his wife, Robert installed spy software on his wife's computer and hired a private detective to monitor her while at their U.S. home. She, meanwhile, accused him of alcohol and cocaine abuse and said he demanded anal and oral sex.
Prosecutors said their differences came to a head on Nov. 2, 2003, accusing her of feeding him a milkshake laced with a cocktail of drugs, then bashing him on the head with a metal ornament when he was drowsy. They said 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.
But Nancy Kissel testified her husband confronted her about a divorce and threatened to take away their children that afternoon. While they fought, she said, he attacked her with a baseball bat and tried to force her to have anal sex. She said she killed him in self-defense.
The couple's three children, who range in age from early to mid-teens, were put in their aunt Jane Kissel Clayton's care in 2005. Simon Clarke, a lawyer for Nancy Kissel, declined to reveal their current whereabouts, saying he wanted to shield them from public attention.
Though the Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday that it will file a new indictment for murder, Clarke held out the possibility that prosecutors might knock the charge down to manslaughter.
In that scenario, Clarke said his client could be freed on time already served, even if convicted. She has been jailed for nearly six years, including pretrial detention.
Clarke conceded, however, that a manslaughter charge is unlikely given the high-profile nature of the case.