Hong Kong ‘milkshake murderer’ Nancy Kissel, 53, says ‘inhumane’ not telling her when early release might happen
American convicted of giving husband drug-laced milkshake then bludgeoning him to death
An American woman who was jailed for life in Hong Kong for drugging and bludgeoning her husband to death in 2003 argued on Friday it was inhumane to keep her in the dark about when she would be considered for early release.
Nancy Kissel, 53, advanced the claim in a judicial review challenging the Long-Term Prison Sentences Review Board’s decision last year to refuse her application for conditional release or a fixed sentence.
Her case raises the question of whether prisoners serving mandatory life sentences for murder are entitled to know what the board considered the necessary minimum period of time to be served before they would be seriously considered for a conditional release or converted sentence.
“It’s right that the person bringing this [judicial review] is Nancy Kissel,” her counsel Edward Fitzgerald QC said. “But the point that’s being raised is in everyone’s benefit.”
Kissel earned the nickname “milkshake murderer” after 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.
She was found guilty of murder after a high-profile trial in 2005 by a jury’s unanimous verdict that was quashed by the Court of Final Appeal in 2010, prompting a retrial.
But her change of strategy, from claiming self-defence in the first trial to arguing diminished responsibility and provocation in her second, did not stop the new jury from returning another unanimous guilty verdict. The top court dismissed her application for leave to appeal in 2014.
On Friday, Kissel walked slowly into the dock. With one hand, she held onto a correctional services officer for support, and with the other she moved from bar to bar until she reached the corner of the cage and sat down, notes and court documents arrayed before her.
The High Court heard the Michigan native had already applied for sentencing review three times during her 11 ½ years behind bars, but was unsuccessful.
She was told on her last application that the sentence she served was “insufficient in all the circumstance to warrant a consideration”.
Fitzgerald, acting pro bono with three other counsels, said the wording suggested “the board must have an idea of what is a sufficient period”.
He argued it was “unfair, irrational and inhumane” that Kissel should be kept in the dark, given the length of time she had served and the fact she is a foreigner “who might have to plan her life in a foreign land”.
He also said Kissel had been “a tormented and broken woman” since the offence. “From a psychological perspective, a finite period of imprisonment would likely decrease her sense of hopelessness,” he added. “Even children need a date to look forward to.”
But Russell Coleman SC countered this argument presupposed the board had a period of sufficient sentence in mind. Instead, Coleman said, each review was a balancing exercise of factors that included a punitive element, the rehabilitative effect, as well as the risks of releasing the prisoner.
“On every occasion when there is a review, the board is tasked to look at all circumstances whether the sentence served is sufficient,” he added.
The two judges presiding in the case – Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung and Mr Andrew Chan Hing-wai – have reserved judgment.