The Nancy Kissel Case - Part 2


The wife of a top US banker murdered her husband by drugging his milkshake with sedatives before repeatedly striking his head with a heavy metal ornament, a court heard yesterday. Nancy Ann Kissel, 40, faced the first day of an eight-week jury trial in front of a packed public gallery. Kissel is charged with murdering her husband, Robert Peter Kissel, 40, on or about November 3, 2003 - the day after prosecutors allege he intended to tell her he was filing for divorce in the belief she had an affair with a television repairman while in the United States.

Kissel has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Government prosecutor Peter Chapman SC told the jury in his opening address that Kissel drugged her husband by "lacing a milkshake with a cocktail of sedative drugs while he drank it on that fateful Sunday afternoon".  When her husband was under the influence of the drugs, Kissel struck with a heavy metal ornament in "a series of powerful and fatal blows" to the right side of his head, Mr Chapman told the Court of First Instance.

The day after killing her husband, Kissel embarked on a cover-up to disguise her premeditated act, the court was told.  She wrote an e-mail to cancel a meeting with a friend she was supposed to see. "My husband is not well. I need to take care of something ... Sorry, I will be in touch soon," Kissel allegedly wrote on November 4, 2003.

Robert Kissel, whose body was found near their luxury apartment in Parkview, Tai Tam, on November 6, 2003, was the Asia-Pacific managing director of global principal products for banking giant Merrill Lynch. The couple came to Hong Kong in 1997.

Mr Chapman said Nancy Kissel met TV repairman Michael del Priore in early 2003 after she left Hong Kong with her three children because of the Sars outbreak and stayed in Vermont for four months. Mr del Priore had "become the man in her life in place of her husband".  

Mr Chapman said the deceased hired retired New York detective Frank Shea in June 2003 to confirm his wife's relationship with Mr del Priore.  Two months before his death, Robert Kissel told the detective he was concerned about his own safety and believed his wife might have been drugging him.  Mr Shea advised him to contact the police and to have his blood and urine tested. "He had not gone to have the tests because he felt guilty about his suspicion."

Nancy Kissel was the beneficiary or primary beneficiary of three life insurance policies worth a total of US$5 million her husband held with a New York-based insurance company and two Merrill Lynch life insurance policies with a total value of US$1.75 million.  About four months before his death, realising the "deteriorating state" of their marriage, Robert Kissel also sought advice from lawyers Sharon Ser and Robin Egerton about divorce, jurisdiction, custody of children and financial matters. He did not make a new will although he was advised by Ms Ser to do so.

The jury was also told that in early 2003 the deceased installed a spyware programme to record activity - including e-mails - on a notebook computer used by his wife and a desktop computer at their home.  Copies of love messages allegedly written by Mr del Priore to Nancy Kissel were also retrieved from the deceased's office drawers. One said: "I love you when you call my name. It makes me melt."

The hearing continues today before Mr Justice Michael Lunn. 

(The Standard)  Cheating wife beat banker to death, jury told.  By Albert Wong.  June 8, 2005.

A Merrill Lynch investment banker was slain by his unfaithful wife in an act of cold-blooded premeditation, a prosecutor told the High Court Tuesday as opening arguments began in the murder trial of Nancy Kissel.  Acting for personal gain, she drugged Robert Kissel's milkshake with sedatives, dealt a series of fatal blows to the right side of his head with a heavy metal ornament, and then attempted a cover-up in the days following his death on November 2, 2003, the High Court heard.

Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Peter Chapman opened the trial of Kissel, 40, to the seven-member jury, outlining the deterioration of the couple's marriage, her infidelity, and the breakdown of trust between the two. In the months leading up to the discovery of the banker's body near their luxurious Park View residence in Tai Tam, he had placed his wife under surveillance and friends and family were aware of their troubles, Chapman said.

The death of the prominent American banker, who held top positions at both Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch during his six years in Hong Kong, and the subsequent indictment of his wife for his murder, shocked the territory's expatriate and banking community.

The two sweethearts married in the United States in 1989 and arrived here in 1997 with their three children.  Nancy Kissel worked as a volunteer at their school, Hong Kong International School.

But the happy scene was, as she told a friend in an e-mail, a sham masquerading as "the best marriage in the universe.''  Instead, according to the prosecutor, she embarked on an affair with a television repairman in the United States, while her husband was working in Hong Kong in the midst of the SARS outbreak.

In order to convince the jury of the defendant's guilt, Chapman will present intimate love letters and e-mails between Nancy Kissel and her alleged lover as evidence. Photographs and surveillance video recordings of the two illicit lovers, made by a private detective, will also be introduced along with statements from friends, family, neighbors, domestic helpers and Merrill Lynch office staff who may have witnessed the marital deterioration.

Correspondence between Robert Kissel and the law firm of Hampton, Winter and Glynn will also be used to try and prove that he was discussing divorce and custody arrangements for their children.  Chapman will also try to demonstrate that Nancy Kissel was the primary beneficiary of her husband's will and life insurance policies.  The deceased held two life insurance policies in Hong Kong worth a total of US$1.75 million (HK$13.7 million) as well as a personal insurance policy from the United States with a face value of about US$5 million.  There was a lot at stake. In 2003, the banker's annual income was US$175,000 not including the US$5.9 million he had amassed in bonuses in his three years with Merrill Lynch.

"The marriage was apparently a stable one,'' said Chapman, until 2002, when Robert Kissel's sister, Jane Clayton, noticed her sister-in-law had become distant during a family skiing trip.  According to e-mail correspondence, Nancy Kissel's long-time friend, Bryna O'Shea, also thought she no longer talked about her husband during their conversations.

In January 2003, without his wife's knowledge, the banker installed "E-Blaster'' spyware software in her Sony Vaio laptop computer that tracked her e-mails and sent reports to a Hotmail account read by himself.  

According to Chapman, Nancy Kissel began her affair with TV repairman Michael del Priore while she and her children were in Vermont evading the SARS outbreak.  Robert Kissel remained in Hong Kong to continue his work and he hired a New York private investigation company, Alpha Group, to spy on his wife and confirm her infidelity.  The surveillance reports, photographs and video recordings will be used as evidence. He also discovered love letters from del Priore in which he had said to Nancy, "I love it when you call my name, it makes me melt.''

By July 28, the banker contacted Sharon Ser, a senior partner at Hampton, Winter and Glynn, to inquire about divorce proceedings, and custody of their children.

By late September, he had twice told the New York private investigator that he feared for his safety and suspected his wife of trying to poison him.  The investigator advised him to report to the police with blood and urine samples. "Robert Kissel, unfortunately, did not heed that advice,'' said Chapman, because he felt guilty for suspecting his wife.

In late October, he e-mailed his brother, Andrew Kissel, and a friend about his intention to talk about divorce with his wife on November 2 - the same day prosecutors say he died.

On November 3, his wife e-mailed a friend she was supposed to meet for coffee, saying, "My husband's not well, I need to take care of things.''  

Chapman said, "By this time, [Robert Kissel] was far from unwell.'' He was dead.  Chapman will try and show that the banker was murdered the day before.

Robert Kissel, 40, was a former Asia-Pacific managing director of Merrill Lynch's Global Principal Investment. He was hired from Goldman Sachs Group in 2000 to head the US investment bank's distressed assets business in Asia outside Japan.

Chapman will finish his opening remarks today and the prosecution case is expected to last five to six weeks. The trial is expected to end in mid-August.

(The Standard)  Potential juror excused after second try.  By Albert Wong.  June 8, 2005.

A potential juror was dismissed before the murder trial of Nancy Kissel after he told the court he would not be able to give a fair verdict when he realized the accused was Jewish.

Nancy Kissel is standing trial in the High Court for the murder of her husband, Merrill Lynch banker Robert Kissel.

A deputy general manager of a factory in Dongguan, Lau Kin-po, originally sought exemption from sitting as a juror because his factory is going through "restructuring'' which requires his supervision.  Justice Michael Lunn dismissed his objection since another employee could easily take over his role, as would happen if Lau fell ill.

After two more jurors had been selected, Lau raised another objection. Remembering that he and other possible jurors had been informed by the judge that the Kissel family were members of the United Jewish Congregation on Robinson Road, Lau said he would not be able to pass a fair verdict.  Lunn asked him if he were implying that, because of race or religion, Lau could not be impartial. Lau replied that he held "a position'' in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In a stern voice, the judge said simply, "Go.''

When told that the murder trial would last until mid-August, there was a collective gasp from the jury panel.  The judge reminded them that "trial by jury is one of the cornerstones of the rule of law'' and should be cherished by citizens since it was what made Hong Kong stand out from other countries in the region.

Nevertheless, eight potential jurors succeeded in obtaining exemptions.  Three men were successful on the grounds of their poor English.

A chef originally sought exemption because it was "impossible to replace'' him at the culinary school where he taught.  The judge refused this exemption, but the prosecution dismissed him when a member of the prosecution team realized he had gone to school with him.

A female administrator at Queen Mary Hospital was excused by the defense because she was acquainted with some of the witnesses. A bus driver was also asked to step down by the defense, although the judge originally believed his English was adequate.  A man whose son is suffering from a long-term illness was also excused.  Some of those eventually sworn in as jurors had raised the usual issues of language ability and employment commitments.

The decision on whether Nancy Kissel had an affair with another man while in America, caused the break-up of the marriage and murdered her husband, will be made by a jury of five men and two women.

(Bloomberg)  Hong Kong Banker Kissel's Murder `Premeditated,' Court Told.  By Clare Cheung.  June 8, 2005.

Nancy Kissel, whose Merrill Lynch & Co. investment banker husband suspected her of having an affair, drugged him before hitting him over the head in a premeditated killing, the city's High Court heard today.

Defendant Nancy Kissel is pleading not guilty to the charge of murdering Robert Kissel, then 40, in 2003.

The murder "involved a degree of planning and pre- meditation,'' government prosecutor Peter Chapman told the court in his opening statement today.

Nancy Kissel drugged her husband by lacing his milkshake with sedatives and when he was under the influence of the drugs, she struck him "with a series of powerful and fatal blows'' with a heavy metal object, the prosecutor said.

Robert Kissel had told friends and his lawyer he wanted a divorce after finding that his wife had had an affair with Michael Del Priore, a television and radio repairman in the U.S., the prosecutor said.  

Robert Kissel, whose body was found in a storeroom near the couple's apartment in November 2003, died of head injuries, a police statement said at the time.

Robert Kissel hired a private detective, Frank Shea, in June 2003, to watch his wife and confirm the affair, the court was told. Shea filed two surveillance reports, including video tapes, in June and July, 2003, confirming the relationship, the prosecutor said. The deceased also installed eBlaster Internet monitoring software on two computers used by his wife, Chapman said.

Nancy left Hong Kong for the U.S. between March and July 2003, during an outbreak severe acute respiratory syndrome, the prosecutor said. When she returned to Hong Kong she kept in contact with Del Priore, the court was told. Robert Kissel knew Del Priore's brother, Chapman said.

The trial is scheduled to last eight weeks. The court spent the past two weeks discussing the admissibility of evidence, before today choosing seven jurors for the case.

Merrill Lynch hired Kissel from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in 2000 to head its distressed assets business in Asia outside Japan. He was a vice president in Goldman's Asian special situations group, helping the firm become one of the biggest investors in bad debt in the region.

Senior counsels for the defendant are Gary Plowman and Alexander King.

The case, HKSAR v. Nancy Ann Kissel, indictment no. HCCC113/2004 in the Court of First Instance of the High Court, resumes tomorrow. 

(The Guardian)  US banker murder case enthralls Hong Kong.  By Jonathan Watt.  June 9, 2005.

A wealthy American banker was drugged with a spiked strawberry milkshake and then bludgeoned to death by his wife, a court in Hong Kong heard yesterday, at the start of one of the most talked-about murder cases in the territory's recent history.

Prosecutors accused Nancy Kissel of murdering her husband Robert on the day he was planning to discuss divorce proceedings after he suspected her of having an affair with a TV repairman while they were separated during the Sars crisis.  Mrs Kissel has pleaded not guilty.

Mr Kissel was a prominent member of Hong Kong's expatriate community and was a senior executive for the investment bank Merrill Lynch.

Peter Chapman, the prose cuting counsel, told the jury that Mrs Kissel drugged her husband on or around November 2 2003 by "lacing a milkshake with a cocktail of sedative drugs ...".  She then allegedly used a heavy ornament to beat him to death, transported his body to a nearby warehouse and tried to cover her tracks.

The day after the killing, she wrote emails to cancel appointments and explain her husband's absence from work.  "My husband is not well," she said in one email to a friend, according to the prosecution. "I need to take care of something. Sorry, I will be in touch soon."  Mr Chapman said this was a cover-up.  "Mr Kissel was far from unwell," he said.

Police recovered the body several days later, wrapped in a carpet and plastic sheets at an underground storeroom rented by the couple.

Mr Chapman suggested Mrs Kissel was motivated by a fear of divorce and a desire to secure life insurance payments. He said she also told police that she had been assaulted by her husband on the day of his death.  On the day he was killed, her husband told friends that he would discuss a legal sep aration on the grounds of infidelity.

The jury heard that during the Sars crisis in early 2003, Mrs Kissel had been evacuated to the US, where she had an affair with a TV repairman.  But Mr Kissel remained suspicious even after she returned to Hong Kong. He installed software on her computers so that all of her emails were copied to him. One message from her alleged lover, Michael del Priore, was read out in court. "I love you when you call my name. It makes me melt," it said.

Four months before his death, Mr Kissel consulted a lawyer about divorce and custody of the children. But he ignored legal advice to change his will, in which his wife was one of the main beneficiaries.  In September 2003, Mr Kissel also confided in a New York-based private detective - whom he had hired to spy on his wife - his fears that she was trying to poison him. The investigator advised him to report to the police with blood and urine samples.  "Unfortunately, he did not heed that advice," Mr Chapman said, "because he felt guilty for suspecting his wife."

The couple married in the United States in 1989 and arrived in Hong Kong in 1997 with their three children.  On the outside, they appeared to have an enviable lifestyle. Mrs Kissel worked as a volunteer at Hong Kong International School, where the children studied. Her husband's career was successful enough for him to be headhunted from Goldman Sachs. The family lived in the luxury Parkview residential complex.  But in an email to a friend, Mrs Kissel said the relationship was a sham masquerading as the best marriage in the universe.

This post is a review of the local Chinese-language coverage.  As this was the first day during which jury selection took up much of the time, the press reports among various newspapers are quite similar on the coverage of the first part of the opening statement, to be continued the next morning.  But here are the additional tidbits:

(Photos: Oriental Daily, The Sun)

(Photo: Apple Daily)