Kissel action revives court drama for a cursed family
A year ago today, once the jury of seven had returned their unanimously guilty verdict against Nancy Ann Kissel, Justice Michael Lunn spared no time in sending her away for life for the murder of her husband, Robert.
The ruling was supposed to bring a close to the three-month saga in the Court of First Instance, which had been packed daily for sordid and salacious allegations of a vicious murder in the family's luxury flat on November 2, 2003.
But it was not to be. For the Kissel family seems to be as cursed as any in a Shakespearean tragedy.
Robert Kissel's older brother, Andrew, was found stabbed to death at his home in Connecticut in April, with his hands and feet bound. A wealthy property developer, Andrew Kissel, 46, had been due to plead guilty for swindling a number of banks and companies out of tens of millions of dollars. No one has been charged in connection with his death.
From her prison cell, Nancy Kissel, whom friends have said still feels her trial was a 'travesty of justice', is looking towards her appeal against the sentence and believes the violent death of Andrew Kissel points to the 'real character' of her husband. US Federal court documents that were part of his messy divorce allege cocaine abuse, alcoholism, bipolar disorder and impulse-control disorder.
Nancy Kissel's lawyers did not return calls for comment this week. But her appeal is likely to be overshadowed by legal action filed on behalf of her three children and their father suing her for damages. Writs were filed yesterday - one year from their mother's conviction. Elaine, June and Reis Kissel have not visited their mother since she was jailed for life.
It was dubbed the 'milkshake murder'. Nancy Kissel had drugged her senior Merrill Lynch-banker husband before bludgeoning him to death, even offering some of the brew to a neighbour.
Then she had bizarrely rolled the evidence - her husband's body - in a rug and left it in the couple's bedroom before calling workers to the storeroom to finally have it removed. After the trial, it emerged that she may have been planning to ship him back to the US with the rest of the family's possessions.
Then there was Kissel's defence - her husband, often stoned on cocaine, frequently drunk and angry, had allegedly brutalised her, raping her as well as regularly searching the internet for gay pornography. Still, Kissel had cried out in the court, claiming that, despite it all, she had loved her husband.
And there was the lover, Michael Del Priore, a muscular TV repairman and notorious ladies' man whom Nancy Kissel allegedly fell for when she fled Sars with her three children for their Vermont holiday home.
The prosecution said Kissel killed her husband so she could avoid a messy divorce and run away with him. During the trial, the jury and court-watchers smelt death when the carpet that Kissel used to roll her husband in was brought to court. But with the crash of the judge's hammer on September 1 last year, a lurid chapter in Hong Kong's annals of crime was surely over.
Maybe Robert Kissel, 41, who had met his death after being beaten with an ornament in his Parkview apartment in Tai Tam in 2003, could rest in peace, knowing justice had been served. Maybe now the Kissel children, Elaine, 11, June, eight, and Reis, five, who at a tender age were forced to deal with a heinous crime, would find some solace in the US.
They were the heirs to a fortune worth up to US$18 million and surely stability beckoned after Judge Eve Preminger awarded guardianship to Jane Kissel Clayton, the banker's sister, who had given evidence at the trial of her sister-in-law.
'Very few people in life have undergone what I have undergone,' said Robert and Andrew Kissel's father, William, 77, from his Florida home at the time. 'To have lost one of my sons to a mad woman, and now Andrew. But I still have a wonderful daughter in Seattle. I just want to live long enough to see how this thing will turn out.'
William Kissel's sons appeared very different. While colleagues of Robert Kissel had only praise for a man they called a devoted family man who would be a struggle to hold at the bar for even a third beer, such was his devotion to children, Andrew Kissel appeared to be embroiled in trouble.
On the day he died, Andrew Kissel was looking down the barrel of a long prison sentence for fraud. There has been speculation in the US he either ended his own life or more bizarrely, organised his own murder via 'suicide by hitman', keeping the hands of creditors from his estate and allowing his two children to collect on a US$10 million life-insurance policy.
Now there is perhaps one final play before the saga is laid to rest. Nancy Kissel will appeal against the Court of First Instance ruling, challenging a number of rulings made during the trial, the summing up of the evidence and the directions given to the jury by the judge.
Her cell in the Tai Lam Centre for Women in Tuen Mun could almost be seen as a haven from the pall that has descended on a family which continues to make the news for all the wrong reasons.
Forensic psychologist GracyMary Leung, who now holds an honorary position at the University of Hong Kong but has worked with many prisoners in Britain, said while she could not comment on Nancy Kissel's experience in prison, there were stages that all those deprived of their liberty went through.
'When something traumatic like this [happens] - murder - it can shatter their mind for a long time, depending on the person's upbringing background and innate nature,' Dr Leung said. 'It goes back to having an angry temperament in your personality.'
With the prospect of an appeal against her conviction and the fact her children are now suing her, any anger is unlikely to abate soon.