The Nancy Kissel Case - Part 31

(The Standard)  Analysis of Kissel case drug cocktail draws fire.  By Albert Wong.  July 27, 2005.

Report fails to show amount of sedatives and impact on late banker, court hears Despite the unusual combination of sedatives, anti-depressants and tranquilizers found in the body of murdered Merrill Lynch banker Robert Kissel, the government laboratory's analysis ''provides no indication of the amount of drugs present, when they were consumed nor the root of administration,'' the court has heard in the Kissel murder trial.

Part of a report offered by the defense was read out in court Tuesday. It criticized the government's analysis as being insufficient in documenting the precise amount and effect the drugs may have had on the victim.

The government's drug analysis expert, Cheng Kok-choi - who earlier said the combination of drugs he found in Kissel's stomach was the most unusual he had seen in his 10 years of forensic experience - said he could not comment on the quantity of drugs or whether they would produce a "significant pharmacological effect.''

The prosecution contends that Robert Kissel's wife, Nancy, drugged her husband with a spiked milkshake and then beat him to death as he lay unconscious. On trial for his November 2003 murder, she denies the charge and is out on bail. She told police that her husband was drunk and had assaulted her when she refused him sex before he disappeared. His body was discovered in a store room in the couple's luxury apartment building.

The defense report, written by Olaf Drummer, an associate professor of forensic medicine at Australia's Monash University, also stated that an analysis of a hair sample from the deceased suggested that he had taken one of the sedatives found in the body, Stilnox, a sleeping pill, two to three months prior to his alleged murder.

Cheng agreed that "hair analysis is a well-established method'' in drug detection and, based on Drummer's analysis, it seemed "he [the deceased] was using it [Stilnox] habitually.''

Cheng also agreed with Drummer that it is possible for traces of different drugs to be present in a corpse due to the chemical process of decomposition and that those traces may not have originated through oral administration.  Drummer is well-known in the field of toxicology, and he has published widely and lectured frequently in universities and government laboratory workshops, defense counsel Alexander King said. Cheng agreed and said he had also attended Drummer's lectures.

Cheng reiterated that, although he found "insignificantly low'' levels of alcohol from the samples, he could not rule out that they were the last trace from an earlier drink. Furthermore, urine and liquid from the eyeball "is the best sample for testing alcohol,'' but he did not receive such samples.  Cheng said that the screening test would not have picked up evidence of cocaine which, in any case, becomes immediately dissolved, or hydrolyzed, in the stomach.  "Did you actually carry out a test to see if the hydrolyzed products were present in the sample?'' asked King. "No,'' Cheng replied.

Pharmacology professor Yeung Hok-keung Tuesday explained the composition, effect and normal usage of the individual drugs found in the stomach of the deceased.  Yeung had been present in court to hear the testimony last month of a Kissel neighbor, Andrew Tanzer, who said he was given the same milkshake as Kissel on the afternoon of the alleged murder.

Tanzer's wife said her husband had turned red, drifted in and out of consciousness, talked incoherently and devoured three tubs of ice cream "like a baby'' after he was served the pink milkshake on November 2, 2003.  Yeung said the five drugs found in the stomach - Anatryptaline, Rohypnol, Lorivan, Stilnox and Axotal - are generally used in low dosage to treat depression, anxiety or insomnia.  The drugs can cause dizziness, drowsiness and amnesia, and induce a coma in the case of an overdose. If taken with alcohol, the sedative effect would be enhanced, added Yeung.

The prosecution alleges the accused was prescribed Stilnox, Rohypnol, Anatryptalene and Lorivan on several occasions before the murder. Yeung said he found it difficult to understand why two sedatives and a sedating anti-depressant were prescribed October 30, as explained by the prosecution. "One on its own'' would be sufficient, he said.

The case continues before Justice Michael Lunn.

(SCMP, no link)  Chemist defends Kissel case method.  By Polly Hui.  July 27, 2005.

A government chemist yesterday told a jury he did not report on the quantities of drugs found in Robert Peter Kissel, who was allegedly murdered by his wife, because it would have been misleading.

Cheng Kok-choi, who identified four hypnotics and an anti-depressant in the senior Merrill Lynch banker's stomach and liver, was asked by prosecutor Peter Chapman to respond to a series of criticisms of his findings by Olaf Drummer, a forensic expert from Australia called by the defence.

Responding to criticism that the amount had not been quantified, Dr Cheng explained that the banker's body had already started to decompose when it was found on November 7, 2003, five days after he was allegedly bludgeoned to death after being served a sedatives-laced milkshake by his wife, Nancy.

"It is a well-known fact in the case that the [quantitative] results would not be reliable and can even be misleading," said the prosecution witness. He said such results would only be sought on special request from the government laboratory or in cases of drug overdose. He said he had only been sent 20 millilitres of stomach contents - rather than a whole stomach, which would have been needed for the quantification.  The drugs found were Rohypnol, Lorivan, Ambien, Axotal and amitriptyline.  Mr Justice Michael Lunn asked the witness if the amount of drugs found corresponded to "a tiny fraction of a normal dose". The witness said yes.

Nancy Kissel, 41, has pleaded not guilty to a count of murder.

Professor Drummer also said in his written report that traces of drugs found in the deceased's stomach did not necessarily mean they were consumed orally.  He said they could have been caused by a contamination of stomach contents by bile or vomiting. Responding to this, Dr Cheng said: "This statement is true. I did additional tests and concluded that these [possibilities] cannot be excluded."  The Australian expert detected one of the hypnotics, Ambien, from his test on the deceased's hair sample and concluded that Kissel had been taking Ambien for two to three months before his death.

Agreeing with Professor Drummer's conclusion, Dr Cheng told defence counsel Alexander King SC that the deceased seemed to be using the drug habitually.  But the witness said he did not agree with the professor's suggestion that the drugs had been in Kissel's stomach much longer than usual, saying there was no basis to say there was an abnormality.

In cross-examination, Mr King said that in the chemist's written reply to Professor Drummer in June, there was "a large measure of agreement" between the experts.  The judge asked the witness if he detected any presence of cocaine in his screening test for other drugs and poisons. Dr Cheng replied: "Unless you have taken an overdose of cocaine, you cannot detect it in the liver." He explained that cocaine would be hydrolysed in the stomach because of the acidic nature of the gastric juice.

Asked by Mr King if any hydrolysed product of cocaine was found in the stomach sample, the witness said no. But he said there was no universal screening procedure that could "detect everything under the sun".

The case continues today.