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Hong Kong Murder Trial Ends

Times Staff Writer

They seemed like an American family living a picture-perfect expatriate life in Hong Kong. He was a wealthy banker. She was an attractive homemaker, raising their three children in a luxury apartment with two maids.

But two years ago, the decomposing body of Robert Kissel was found wrapped in a carpet in a rented storage room. On Thursday, a jury in Hong Kong convicted his wife, Nancy Kissel, of drugging her husband with a strawberry milkshake laced with sedatives, then bludgeoning him to death.

The “milkshake murder” trial has riveted the former British colony since testimony began in spring. Tales of rough sex, marital infidelity, drugs, violence and coverup made the case seem like an offshore episode of the hit American TV show “Desperate Housewives.”

The Kissels were much like fictional housewife and husband Bree and Rex Van De Kamp. They came to the glamorous global financial hub in 1997, when he was transferred there by brokerage firm Merrill Lynch & Co. She tended the children and volunteered at the international school.

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Nancy Kissel’s lawyer, however, portrayed the 41-year-old brunet as a victim of spousal abuse who killed her husband in self-defense.

Kissel, who testified in her own behalf, told the jury that her husband had brandished a baseball bat and threatened to kill her during a bedroom quarrel. She said she grabbed a heavy metal statue and hit him five times in the head.

The defense portrayed Robert Kissel as a stressed-out workaholic who snorted cocaine, pressured his wife to perform sodomy and encouraged her to get a breast enlargement. It also accused the executive of going online to check out gay sex services before a business trip.

Prosecutors denied those charges and argued that Nancy Kissel killed her husband to cash in on his $18-million will and take up with a television-repairman she had had an affair with in Vermont.

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Before he died on Nov. 2, 2003, Robert Kissel, 40, a New York native, had told his wife that he was filing for divorce and wanted custody of their three children, ages 5, 8 and 10, according to her testimony.

He was angry over her affair with the repairman, whom she met when she and her children fled to a vacation home in Vermont to escape the Asian SARS epidemic in the summer of 2003, according to her testimony.

A maid testified that the man, Michael Del Priore, who lived in a trailer park, visited the home while the children were asleep. Prosecutors introduced explicit love letters detailing the affair.

Robert Kissel put spyware on his wife’s computer and discovered her perusal of Internet sites about lethal drugs, according to testimony from a friend of the victim. He also told the friend that he suspected his wife might be trying to poison him.

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The defense claimed that Nancy Kissel had been researching drugs because she was contemplating suicide over a miserable marriage.

Kissel acknowledged serving her husband a tall pink milkshake, but denied spiking it, and said she couldn’t remember what happened after she fatally struck him. The prosecution claimed that Robert Kissel probably was unconscious when he was struck. Autopsy reports found several types of tranquilizers in his body.

The day after her husband’s death, Nancy Kissel went on a shopping spree, buying a new carpet, bed covers and cushions, according to testimony.

Then she called maintenance staff to drag away the rolled-up carpet, sealed with tape and plastic, that contained her husband’s body. When asked by the workers why it was so bulky, she told them it was stuffed with old pillows and blankets. After taking the rug to the storeroom, one worker reported to her that the bundle reeked like salted fish; she ignored him and closed the door, according to testimony.

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A colleague of Robert Kissel filed a missing-person report Nov. 6, 2003. When investigators found the body the next day, they arrested Nancy Kissel.

After a three-month trial, the jury of five men and two women deliberated for about eight hours before returning the guilty verdict. Dressed in black, as throughout the proceedings, the Michigan native listened to the mandatory life sentence without visible expression. It was unclear whether she planned an appeal.


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