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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Hong Kong Shocker

That’s the conclusion I reached after reading the unanimous decision issued this month by Hong Kong’s version of the U.S. Supreme Court. Citing what can only be described as foot faults by the trial judge and prosecutors, the ruling set aside Nancy Kissel’s conviction in the November 2003 death of her husband, Robert Kissel. Mrs. Kissel will be given a new trial, even though a jury needed only eight hours to return a guilty verdict against her in 2005. She was sentenced to life in prison.

“It could have been written by a defense attorney,” said Frank Shea, president of Farmingdale-based Alpha Group Investigations (, referring to the court’s decision. Mr. Shea’s name appears frequently in the ruling because his firm was retained by Robert Kissel in 2003 to examine what Nancy Kissel was doing during her months-long stay early that year at the family’s home in Vermont, along with their three children, while Mr. Kissel was working long hours at Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong.

Mr. Shea also testified at Mrs. Kissel’s trial.

Before retaining Alpha Group, which found that Mrs. Kissel was having an affair in Vermont, Mr. Kissel had installed spyware on Mrs. Kissel’s computer and knew she had undertaken an Internet search for “sleeping pills overdose on sleeping pills medications causing heart attacks drug overdose.” This piece of information went unchallenged at trial. Mrs. Kissel claimed she was considering suicide and learned during these searches that drugs such as Stilnox, Amitriptyline, Lorivan, and Rohypnol might hasten her passage into the hereafter. She secured prescriptions for all of them upon returning to Hong Kong in the summer of 2003.

“I flew to Hong Kong in September 2003 and over dinner at the China Club warned Robert that I believed she (Mrs. Kissel) was attempting to kill him,” Mr. Shea stated.

Alas, traces of the four aforementioned drugs were found in Mr. Kissel’s stomach after his death, which occurred because Mrs. Kissel repeatedly struck her husband in the head with a blunt instrument. Mrs. Kissel claimed at her trial that she had acted in self-defense. The couple, she said, had a violent fight, although no defensive wounds were found on Mr. Kissel.

The prosecution’s argument: Mrs. Kissel placed these four drugs into a milkshake which Mr. Kissel ingested at their Hong Kong home along with another father in the neighborhood (he survived, but was rendered unconscious for hours afterward) during a play date with their kids. When Mr. Kissel went into his bedroom to lie down due to the milkshake’s effects, Mrs. Kissel killed her defenseless husband, the prosecution argued.

“I had advised him (Mr. Kissel) to get his blood, urine and hair tested,” Mr. Shea, a retired NYPD detective, recalled, because months before his death his client said he’d been feeling groggy whenever his wife had prepared an alcoholic beverage for him. Mr. Kissel never got around to taking Mr. Shea’s advice.

My November 2007 column on Never Enough, the terrific Joe McGinniss book on the Kissel case, is at

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: