Hong Kong courts

‘Milkshake murderer’ Nancy Kissel loses Hong Kong legal challenge seeking to convert her life sentence into a fixed term

Michigan native argued it was wrong and inhumane to keep her in the dark about when she would be considered for early release

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 7:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 10:49pm

An American woman who bludgeoned her husband to death 15 years ago in Hong Kong has lost her legal challenge against the authorities’ refusal to support the conversion of her life sentence into a fixed term that would see her released earlier.

The High Court on Thursday denied 53-year-old Nancy Kissel’s request for a judicial review of the Long-term Prison Sentences Review Board’s decision in 2016. Then, the board said her period behind bars was “insufficient in all the circumstances to warrant the consideration” for a review of her sentence.

Kissel argued this was wrong and said it was inhumane for her to be kept in the dark about when she would be considered for early release.

But the court found it was “simply not open, inappropriate and impracticable” for the board to indicate a minimum period of sentence she had to serve to trigger its consideration of an early release, and concluded prisoners were not being “unfairly prejudiced”.

Kissel earned the nickname “milkshake murderer” when she incapacitated her husband, Robert Kissel, a Merrill Lynch investment banker, with a drug-laced milkshake and bludgeoned him to death with a lead ornament at their luxury flat in Tai Tam in 2003. She was convicted of murder in 2005.

But the jury’s unanimous verdict was quashed by the Court of Final Appeal in 2010, prompting a retrial that also returned a unanimous guilty verdict.

It would be illogical to compel the board to provide an indication
High Court judgment

The top court in 2014 dismissed Kissel’s application for leave to appeal.

Kissel applied for sentencing reviews in 2011, 2013 and 2015, while incarcerated at Tai Lam Centre for Women. The board decided on April 28, 2016 that it would not make any recommendation to the city’s top official for her sentence to be converted into a determinate one to facilitate her release.

The Michigan native complained the independent board had acted unreasonably.

But Justices Thomas Au Hing-cheung and Andrew Chan Hing-wai of the Court of First Instance said they were “not convinced” by Kissel’s argument, as there were no legal requirements for the board to indicate the minimum jail term a person had to serve before their sentence is reviewed.

“It was held by the Court of Appeal … that it would be illogical to compel the board to provide an indication … as that was a judicial function which would not be for the board to perform,” they wrote in an 18-page judgment.

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The judges also pointed out that each review was “a multifaceted fact-sensitive assessment” in which the board would have to adopt a holistic approach and consider a number of interacting matters in accordance with the Long-term Prison Sentences Review Ordinance.

“It seems clear to us that the board must consider each individual prisoner’s application afresh every time since the circumstances of the prisoner may change significantly between one review and the next,” they added.

The judges said there was no basis to suggest “that the board should by the time of the decision have in its mind a definite period of sentence that the applicant had already served to trigger the consideration”.