The Nancy Kissel Case - Part 10

(The Standard)  Victim's home wide open, court hears.  By Albert Wong.  June 18, 2005.

Nancy Kissel's former maid faced a second day of grilling in the High Court on events following the discovery of murdered Merrill Lynch banker Robert Kissel's body in a storeroom.  Lawyers questioned Maximina Macaraeg Friday seeking to uncover intimate details about the domestic life of her employers and the crucial aftermath of the murder in the longest testimony in the case so far.  The Kissel apartment, testified Macaraeg, was left wide open to police officers, friends, family and lawyers for several days after the victim's death.

Nancy Kissel, 40, is accused of serving her husband a milkshake laced with sedatives which left him unconscious as she bludgeoned him to death in the master bedroom of their Parkview, Tai Tam home on the night of November 2, 2003.  She told hospital workers and police officers at the time that her husband was drunk and beat her up after she refused to have sex with him.  Macaraeg said she was only told by police not to go into the master bedroom of the flat after the body was found, but that the area was not cordoned off.

Senior counsel for the accused, Gary Plowman, asked Macaraeg if she remembered whether Robert Kissel had kept a baseball bat in the master bedroom.  Holding up the prosecution's photo of the master bedroom, taken after the alleged murder, he asked Macaraeg to point out where the bat was kept.  Macaraeg pointed to an empty space between furniture. "That's where he kept the baseball bat,'' she said.

Macaraeg said that, on November 8, 2003, she found a black plastic bag filled with bloodstained items in the room of the Kissels' two daughters when she returned to pack some clothes for the children who had, by then, moved to a hotel. She said she was surprised that the police had not previously found the bag.

Referring to another prosecution photo, Plowman asked, "Is that the condition in which the girls' room is normally kept?''  Macaraeg replied, "That day, that was the normal condition [but] the mess is not normally like that.''

According to Macaraeg, in the days following the discovery of the banker's carpet-wrapped decomposing body, lawyers, friends, family and police went in and out of the Kissel residence relatively freely.  She said she once had to go to the apartment to let in the accused's lawyers. "What about the police, how did they get access?'' asked Plowman.  Macaraeg answered, "That's what I do not know.''

In preparing for the Kissel children's return to the United States on November 19, Macaraeg said she was instructed by the accused's friends to pack up unwanted, but usable items, to donate to the Salvation Army. She also said she threw away items in a medicine cabinet in the master bedroom's bathroom.  Macaraeg Thursday was questioned on the victim's drinking habits, about which she said she had "no idea.''  

Plowman Friday showed a photo of the living room with a liquor cabinet in it. "Let me see if I can remind you,'' he said to Macaraeg.  In another close-up photograph, Plowman pointed out a bottle of Scotch whisky. "Does that refresh your memory?'' asked Plowman. "Did Mr Kissel like to drink Scotch whisky?''  Macaraeg replied, "I have no idea.''

Referring to the defense's photo, prosecutor Peter Chapman, inquired about a doll's house in the living room. Macaraeg said she had taken it from the children's room as she was packing their clothes after the alleged murder.  Chapman noted Macaraeg said lawyers, family and friends of the accused had visited the Kissel apartment after the alleged murder.  "Did they keep anything for themselves?'' he asked. Macaraeg said a friend of the accused had kept a camera.

Macaraeg Thursday also said she did not see any injuries on the accused in her three years of employment.  Plowman, for the accused, said, between September and October 2003 "Mrs Kissel was sporting a black eye and wearing dark glasses. Do you remember that?'' Macaraeg replied, "No.''

Plowman asked, "Is it right to say that Mr Kissel was a man who liked to be in control of the family?'' Macaraeg replied, "That is what I feel, he wants to discipline the family.''  The lawyer asked, "Including his wife?'' Macaraeg replied, "Possibly.''

The trial enters its third week Monday.

(The Standard)  Drugs in milkshake and poisoned whisky.  By Albert Wong.  June 20, 2005.

The milkshake murder trial enters its 10th day today with a former domestic helper of the Kissel family, Maximina Macaraeg, continuing her testimony for the third day running.  The maid had previously been subjected to questions by lawyers on both sides about the activity around the crime scene immediately after the alleged murder.

Nancy Kissel, 40, who is out on bail, is accused of serving her husband, Merril Lynch banker Robert Kissel, a milkshake laced with sedatives which left him unconscious at the foot of their bed before bludgeoning him to death with a heavy metal ornament on the night of November 2, 2003.  The prosecution alleges she was having an affair with a television repairman living in a trailer park near the Kissels' Vermont residence in the United States.  

Kissel's decomposing body was found wrapped in an old rug in the couple's Parkview storeroom on the night of November 7.  The accused said at the time her husband was drunk and had beaten her up after she refused to have sex with him.

Last Monday, the High Court heard that Robert Kissel suspected his wife was poisoning his Scotch whisky two months before his death. Frank Shea, the owner of the private investigating company, Alpha Group Investigations, testified that when Kissel called him in late August 2003, "he was quite upset. He expressed concern that his wife was trying to kill him.''

Shea advised him to contact the police and his lawyers and to gather samples of hair, blood, urine and a vial of the Scotch. But Robert never went through with the advice because "he felt guilty about his suspicions,'' Shea said.  During cross-examination, defense counsel, Gary Plowman SC, suggested that Kissel had not submitted the samples as he knew they might test positive for cocaine.

Last Tuesday, the High Court heard that former Parkview neighbor, Andrew Tanzer, was left drifting in and out of consciousness, acting like a baby, devouring ice cream and awakening the next morning with "something like amnesia'' after drinking a milkshake served by the accused.  Tanzer said the milkshake "was a kind of strange milkshake, fairly heavy, sweet, thickened, with banana taste and crushed cookies.''  It was reddish in color, probably from strawberry flavoring, he said.

Family lawyer, Sharon Ser, said last Tuesday Robert Kissel had mentioned his wife had "issues'' and low self-esteem. When Kissel asked his wife not to continue working as a volunteer for the Hong Kong International School fair, "she was upset that he didn't want her to do it.''  Her former law partner also appeared in court to confirm he had notes saying Mrs Kissel suffered from depression.

Last Wednesday, the court saw the accused, who had previously shown no visible sign of emotion, break down in tears after a friend mouthed some words of comfort and offered a supportive wave as she left the court, having been asked to testify as a prosecution witness.  Samantha Kriegel told the jury the accused had said to her she was "dealing with issues about Rob's health,'' days after the prosecution alleged Mrs Kissel had murdered her husband. Kriegel said the accused was devoted to children, creative and intelligent.

On Thursday, Macaraeg testified that Mrs Kissel was a person "who could not forgive'' and would "hate you'' if you made a mistake. She said the youngest son had noticed a foul smelling odor as he held the door open to let the removal men transport the old rug out of the apartment into the storeroom.  She identified the white nylon rope used to bind the rug containing the corpse as the one she had bought under the instruction of the accused. The alleged murder weapon, a heavy metal ornament comprising two figurines the size of a clenched fist, were displayed to the court and inspected by the jury and the judge. 

(SCMP)  Maid denies telling police Kissel beat his wife.  By Polly Hui.  June 18, 2005.

A maid working for Nancy Ann Kissel yesterday denied telling police that Kissel had said, a day after she allegedly murdered her husband, that he had "hit and assaulted" her.  Maximina Macaraeg told the Court of First Instance that the defendant only told her she had had "an argument" with her husband, and that the master bedroom was not to be cleaned.

Defence counsel Gary Plowman SC asked the witness why she had said in signed statements on November 7 and November 18, 2003, that "in the morning, Nancy told me she was hit and assaulted by Robert".  The maid apologised and said she had not read the written statements properly before signing them. "That is my mistake, sir. I did not read them because the police hurried us," she said.

Ms Macaraeg also denied knowing that Nancy Kissel had broken ribs - as recorded in one of her earlier written statements - when she sent Ms Macaraeg to the Adventist Hospital to buy a Velcro belt for her on November 5, 2003. She told the court yesterday that her employer said only that her back was hurting.

Mr Plowman asked her if Robert Peter Kissel was a strong person who liked to be in control of his family.  Ms Macaraeg replied that he would discipline his children if they misbehaved. But she said he would never harm them.  Asked by Mr Plowman if the deceased would also discipline his wife, the helper said: "Possible."

Kissel, 40, is accused of bludgeoning her wealthy husband to death after serving him a sedative-laced milkshake in their luxury Parkview apartment, in Tai Tam, on or around November 2, 2003. The top Merrill Lynch banker's body was found wrapped in a carpet in a storeroom four days later.

Cross-examining Ms Macaraeg on the ninth day of the sensational trial, Mr Plowman asked her if she had noticed that the defendant had a black eye and was wearing dark glasses some time around September and October, 2003. The witness said she had not noticed it.  Mr Plowman also asked if she remembered Kissel wearing a Velcro belt some time in 2001. She said she did not see the belt, although the defendant had told her she broke her ribs after playing tennis at Aberdeen Marina Club at that time.

She also remembered that her employer was limping with an injured ankle after the family returned from a vacation in Phuket. Otherwise, she said, she could not recall seeing any injuries on Kissel since she started working for the family in early 2000. The witness said she knew nothing about the deceased's drinking habits.

A sense of tension was revealed yesterday as the witness told the court how she detected a change of attitude on the defendant's part, starting from 2002.  "I was not happy because her attitude was bad," she said. At one point around April that year, the maid said she decided to leave her job, but the defendant had said she could not. "I stayed in my room for five days, not doing anything. I kept waiting," she said. In the end, the deceased persuaded her to stay.

The defence counsel revealed yesterday that the metal ornament alleged by the prosecution to have been the murder weapon had been inherited by Kissel from her grandmother.  Ms Macaraeg also told the court that many people walked in and out of the Parkview apartment after November 6, 2003. She said the police did not seal off the flat but only told her not go to the master bedroom.

The case will continue on Monday.