The Nancy Kissel Case - Part 34

(Reuters)  HK banker suspected wife weeks before his murder.  July 29, 2005.

An American banker who prosecutors say was poisoned and clubbed to death by his wife suspected that she was plotting to kill him weeks before he died, according to the testimony of a family friend.

Robert Kissel, a high-flying Merrill Lynch banker in Hong Kong, had installed spy software on his wife's laptop in August 2003 and found that she had made searches with key words like "drugs" and "death", according to their friend Bryna O'Shea.

O'Shea's statements to police were read out in the High Court on Friday by prosecution lawyers. She did not appear herself.

Prosecutors have accused Nancy Kissel, 40, of feeding her husband a glass of strawberry milkshake laced with a cocktail of anti-depressants and hypnotic drugs before clubbing him to death on the night of Nov. 2, 2003.  Nancy Kissel has denied the charges.

O'Shea said Robert Kissel confided in her about his marital problems on an almost daily basis in the months before he died. In one telephone call, O'Shea related, Kissel asked her: "Do you think she (Nancy) is trying to kill me?".  O'Shea never took that suspicion seriously but said Kissel had then told her to make sure his three children were well taken care of if anything happened to him.

Kissel's murder and his wife's arrest shocked Hong Kong's expatriate community and the case has riveted the city since the trial opened in early June.  The trial is expected to last until the third week of August. If convicted, Nancy Kissel could face life in prison.

The couple sought the help of a marriage counsellor in September 2003 and things seemed to improve until the next month, when Kissel found that Nancy was keeping a secret mobile phone.  O'Shea said the marriage deteriorated rapidly after that discovery because it gave Robert reason to believe Nancy was still in touch with her TV repairman lover in the United States.

Prosecutors said she apparently met the repairman when she returned to the United States with their three children to escape the SARS epidemic earlier in 2003.

"She was always in touch with Mike (the lover). There were phone calls, emails ... (In October) Rob was thinking about divorce because he thought she was constantly lying to him," O'Shea said in her testimony to police.

Police found Kissel's body on Nov. 6, 2003, in a storeroom that the couple rented in the luxury residential estate where they lived with their children.  Prosecutors said Nancy disposed of the body by wrapping it in a carpet and then asked four workmen on the estate to take it to the storeroom.

(The Standard)  Kissels' friend tells of lies, love and betrayal.  By Albert Wong.  July 30, 2005.

Murdered investment banker Robert Kissel told a close family friend that he suspected his wife was out to kill him weeks before it happened, the friend testified in the High Court Friday.  That suspicion was a part of the tale of sex, lies, love and betrayal woven at the Kissel murder trial in the deposition of Bryna O'Shea, Nancy Kissel's best friend and Robert Kissel's ''confidante.''

O'Shea, who did not appear in court, described in detail how what she thought was the ''best marriage in the universe'' was really a facade to hide the stress and disorientation of life in Hong Kong, the increasing tension in the home and Robert Kissel's eventual suspicion that his wife was plotting to kill him.

''Do you think she [Nancy Kissel] is trying to kill me?'' he asked O'Shea in an e-mail after finding suspicious information on his wife's computer.

Even after the alleged murder took place, November 2, 2003, O'Shea was at the center of the turmoil and mayhem that destroyed the family. Nancy Kissel called O'Shea in New York and left the following message on her answering machine: ''We had a fight, he chased me around the room, he wanted to have sex, he beat me up.''  O'Shea was not convinced by the recording, however. ''It sounded made up,'' she said in her deposition.

O'Shea first met Nancy Kissel in 1987 while working in New York City and they became best friends, treating each other like sisters. But by 2002, Nancy Kissel had become ''distant,'' according to O'Shea, and in April 2003, Robert Kissel had begun confiding in O'Shea about his marital problems.

The court heard Friday that he believed Nancy Kissel, who is accused of the murder, was giving mixed signals about her hopes for their marriage.  But at the same time, O'Shea felt Nancy Kissel was going through a stressful period, especially during the SARS epidemic when she left for the United States and was not sure if she would return to Hong Kong.

But it was only when Robert Kissel began phoning and e-mailing her in April 2003 that O'Shea got a clearer picture of their marital problems.  Between April and July 2003, she learnt Robert Kissel had been upset that his wife ignored his 40th birthday. When she asked Nancy Kissel about her husband, she would reply "don't even ask,'' said O'Shea.

She learnt that the couple were no longer having sex, "but she had always told me they had a wonderful sex life,'' and that was also obvious "by the way she talked'' about it. When Robert Kissel found out about Michael Del Priore, Nancy's alleged lover, taking his daughter to play with the Kissel children in their Vermont residence while he was in Hong Kong, he phoned O'Shea to say, "that shouldn't be Mike there with my children, that should be me.''

But on the day Nancy Kissel returned, July 30, 2003, Robert Kissel felt there was hope again for their marriage.  He wrote to O'Shea, saying he had taken time off to spend the whole day with her. After overcoming the initial awkwardness at the airport, she grew warmer, holding his hand.

"We talked about 'us,' she said she was very confused - she cried,'' he wrote to O'Shea.

In August 2003, O'Shea wrote to Nancy Kissel to speak frankly about her observations: "We haven't really been best friends for a while. I love you, I am here for you if you feel the need. I just felt I need to say something.''  On August 17, Nancy Kissel replied: "You're always right and so f------ perceptive,'' said Nancy. She wrote about the stress of married life with young children, "especially when everyone around me thinks it's the best marriage in the universe. Robert's continued success has taken its toll.''  "It was the most I had gotten from her as a response,'' said O'Shea.

But soon after, the mood was reversed after Nancy Kissel found out O'Shea had grown close to her husband. "She felt betrayed,'' said O'Shea. She felt Robert Kissel had stolen the one thing she had. O'Shea wrote to Nancy Kissel, saying she was just concerned for her and that about "being Rob's cheerleader - you got it wrong.''  "Make sure your home is warm and cozy this winter,'' wrote O'Shea.

On September 25, Robert Kissel wrote to O'Shea in good spirits and optimistic about the marriage.  He later explained to O'Shea in a phone call that, at first, Nancy Kissel had said during a counseling session, "I want a divorce.'' But she went to his office the next day, which she hadn't done for years, swept his desk so she could sit on it and said, "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean what I said in therapy. I don't want a divorce. I really love you.''

In October, when Robert Kissel found his wife's mobile-phone bills, he was distraught because he thought she had given up contact with the lover, Del Priore. "He felt she was constantly lying to him,'' O'Shea said. It was after this that he began initiating draft divorce papers, thought O'Shea.

Robert Kissel had told O'Shea that he planned to discuss divorce Sunday night, November 2, 2003.  On November 1, he wrote to O'Shea just to say "boohoo'' because of Halloween and "kisses and hugs.'' It was just a "signing-off'' e-mail because he wasn't planning to speak to her again until after the weekend and after the divorce talk, said O'Shea.  

"That was the last time I had any communication with him.''  Looking back, O'Shea said, "I thought they were the happiest couple.''

Nancy Kissel, 41, is accused of serving her husband a milkshake laced with sedatives and beating him to death while he lay unconscious on November 2, 2003. She denies the charge and is out on bail. The trial is being heard before Justice Michael Lunn.

(SCMP, no link)  Kissel's best friend tells of strained relationship.  By Polly Hui.  July 30, 2005.

The Sars outbreak and her husband Robert's success as a top Merrill Lynch banker had ruined what appeared to outsiders to be "the best marriage in the universe", Nancy Kissel told her best friend, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.

Prosecutor Polly Wan read out an e-mail sent by Kissel on August 17, 2003, to Bryna O'Shea, who she had met in New York in 1987.  "It's mostly been me ... so fxxking perceptive ... I had a pretty shitty summer ... especially when everyone is thinking we have the best marriage in the universe," Kissel wrote to the woman who had become her best friend.

"I agree to a certain extent about the great marriage part. But during those five years, with Rob's continued success ... it's taken its toll. To be hit with the Sars shit, and the separation and all unresolved crap just kept piling up. We've both acknowledged this for some time and have agreed to see a counsellor."

The court heard Nancy took the three children to Vermont in the United States to flee Sars between March and July 2003, while Robert stayed in the city for work.

Nancy Kissel, 41, is accused of murdering her husband in their Parkview flat on November 2, 2003. She has pleaded not guilty.

Ms O'Shea, whose testimony, given in the US in May, was read to the jury yesterday, said the e-mail was the most Kissel had opened up to her for a long time. She had noticed Kissel had become harder to talk to and had stopped talking about her husband since late 2002. During the Sars period, she described Kissel as tense and upset.

Ms O'Shea, a San Franciscan, said the deceased had phoned her about April 2003 and asked her to be his confidante in their marital matters. After that, he sometimes phoned or e-mailed daily.

One night in June, Ms O'Shea said he called, crying. He told her he had called his daughter in Vermont and she told him that Mike del Priore - Nancy's alleged lover - "has come with his daughter and we were all watching television together". He told Ms O'Shea: "That should not be Mike there with my children. That should be me."

Mr Kissel phoned Ms O'Shea one night in September and told her his wife had said she did not want to be with him any more during a marriage therapy session. The deceased sounded "very, very upset". But later that month, he told her his wife went to his office one day, something she had not done for ages. "She pushed everything off his desk, sat on his desk and said: `I am sorry, I didn't mean anything I said. I don't want to get a divorce. I love you'."

Asked by Alexander King SC, for the defence, about a history of domestic violence, Ms O'Shea said she could only remember once when Kissel told her the deceased had pushed her up against a wall.

In October, the deceased told her he found the accused had another mobile phone, allegedly used to call her lover. He wrote in his e-mail: "I can't wait to have a really big cry," Ms O'Shea said.

She only recalled after attending the deceased's funeral in Connecticut that he had told her his wife had accessed some "dark websites" on drugs. "Rob asked me: 'Do you think she's trying to kill me?' I laughed and said: 'If she's trying to kill you, put me in your will.' He laughed and said: `If anything happens to me, make sure my children are taken care of'," she said.

Ms O'Shea, who said she learnt of Robert's intention to discuss divorce with Nancy on November 2, said Nancy told her later they had fought and Robert had left. Nancy said she had two broken ribs.

The witness said she became concerned after failing to get hold of the deceased despite repeated phone calls and e-mails. She later contacted a colleague of the deceased, David Noh, who reported Robert Kissel missing to police on November 6, 2003.

The case continues on Monday.

(The Standard)  Drugs cocktail and baseball bat thicken Kissel plot.  By Albert Wong.  August 1, 2005.

Last week, the High Court heard about the unusual cocktail of drugs found in the stomach of murdered banker Robert Kissel; how the effects on a neighbor who had been served a milkshake at the Kissel residence was ''in line'' with the effects of those drugs, and was shown a new defense exhibit - a baseball bat.

Friday, senior government counsel Polly Wan read out the deposition of Bryna O'Shea, the deceased's "confidante,'' that told a tale of sex, lies, love and betrayal as O'Shea recounted how what was viewed as "the best marriage in the universe'' ended with Nancy Kissel being charged with the murder of her husband.

Kissel, 41, is accused of serving her husband a milkshake laced with sedatives, which left the banker unconscious at the foot of their bed as she beat him to death with a heavy metal ornament on November 2, 2003. The accused told a doctor and the police her drunken husband had assaulted her after she refused him sex and then disappeared. She denies the charge and is out on bail. The banker's body was found wrapped in a carpet in a storeroom in the Parkview residential complex on November 7.

O'Shea said in her deposition that she felt the accused, whom she treated like a sister from the time they met in 1987, had become "distant'' by 2002. After Robert Kissel began a daily correspondence with O'Shea in April, 2003, she learned of the couple's marital problems and that the deceased "felt she was constantly lying to him.''  In September, Robert Kissel wrote an e-mail to O'Shea asking "do you think she's trying to kill me?'' Thinking it was a joke, she said, "If she's trying to kill you, put me in your will.''

O'Shea described the months leading up to the murder as an emotional rollercoaster for Robert as his hopes for rekindling a lost love were dashed when he discovered an alternative cellphone Nancy Kissel used to keep in contact with an alleged lover in the United States, Michael Del Priore. "He was very frustrated and felt she was constantly lying to him,'' said O'Shea.

He then began proceedings for divorce. O'Shea thought Nancy must have known about the divorce talks since an angry Robert Kissel had e-mailed O'Shea about a mistake which led to the divorce papers being faxed to the home number rather than the office.

O'Shea knew that the deceased had planned to discuss divorce on Sunday night, November 2, 2003, the night he was allegedly murdered. O'Shea had written an e-mail wishing him luck.  When O'Shea did not receive any correspondence the next week, she made inquiries, speaking to Robert Kissel's colleague at Merill Lynch, David Noh, and the family's domestic helper on the phone. The accused left a message on her phone saying, "We had a fight, he chased me around the room. He wanted to have sex. He beat me up.''  But O'Shea thought "it just didn't sound right. It sounded made up.''  She said in the deposition that she had never known the deceased to be violent, although she did remember the accused mentioning an occasion when the deceased had "slammed her against the wall'' but O'Shea was convinced Robert Kissel had never hit her.

Last Monday, a government expert in drug analysis, Dr Cheng Kok-choi, testified that he had never seen in 10 years as a toxicologist such a combination of drugs left behind in the stomach of a corpse. "Not even in suicide cases involving multiple drugs,'' Cheng said.  He added that he found the alcohol levels to be "insignificantly low.''

An alternative report by Professor Olaf Drummer was read out Tuesday that criticized Cheng's methods as being insufficient to show the quantity of the drugs, and how the drugs got there.  Cheng said that in general, Drummer's analysis was correct, and without knowing the quantity of the drugs there was no way to determine their effect on the deceased prior to his death.  But he said the combination of five sedatives and hypnotics would have had an enhanced effect.

On Wednesday, Professor Yeung Hok-keung from Chinese University told the court the drowsiness, slurred speech, and failure to recall events after Parkview resident Andrew Tanzer was served a milkshake at the Kissel residence and was stricken were "consistent of the drugs found in the stomach contents of the deceased.''

Yeung had been in court in June to hear Tanzer testify that there had been a "strange taste'' in the milkshake. Yeung said Wednesday the drugs would have dissolved in the milkshake and that the chemicals would have left a "strange, bitter taste.'' Thursday, the defense team displayed to the jury a baseball bat, as a prologue to the upcoming exposition of the events leading up to the death of Robert Kissel, as seen through the eyes of Nancy.

Previously, the defense has suggested through cross-examination of prosecution witnesses that the accused had used the metal ornament, the alleged murder weapon, to defend herself from an attack and the bruises found on the back of the accused's upper limbs and the curvature of a metal base were inflicted by a baseball bat.

The case continues today.