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American's retrial begins in 'milkshake murder'

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MIN LEE | January 11, 2011 05:36 AM EST | AP

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HONG KONG — 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 Chinese territory's highest court tossed out her earlier conviction.

The conviction and mandatory life sentence Nancy Kissel was issued in September 2005 was overturned last year because prosecutors improperly cross-examined her and the judge allowed hearsay evidence. She maintains she killed her husband in self-defense.

Kissel, who remains in custody, pleaded innocent to the new murder charge at Hong Kong's High Court. Both her parents attended Tuesday's session, as did her father-in-law, William Kissel, although he said later he wasn't sure if he would stay for the entire trial, which is expected to last more than two months.

Wearing a blue shawl over a gray cardigan, Kissel trembled badly as she spoke, clung to the bars in the defendant's box and leaned 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 consider only evidence given in the new trial.

The first trial against the 47-year-old native of Adrian, Michigan, grabbed worldwide attention with juicy details on the breakdown of a wealthy expatriate marriage in this southern Chinese financial hub. It spawned two books and a TV special.

Prosecutors alleged Kissel carefully plotted her husband'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 Kissel 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.

During opening statements Tuesday, Nancy Kissel sobbed as prosecutor David Perry revisited the gruesome details of her husband's death. Kissel delivered at least five blows to her husband's head while he was lying face down in the bedroom, subdued by a mix of six drugs, Perry said. She then covered the body with a plastic bag and towels and wrapped it in a carpet, then had it moved to storage, he said.

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