HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's highest court on Thursday quashed the conviction of housewife Nancy Kissel, jailed for life for murdering her banker husband by feeding him a spiked milkshake and clubbing him to death, and ordered a retrial.
The appeal court verdict marks a dramatic reprieve for the American, whose 2005 trial riveted the territory with tales of rough sex, marital violence and adultery.
Kissel, dressed in black, broke down in tears after the judgment was read out in the wood-paneled courtroom, while her lawyers pumped their fists in celebration.
Kissel had admitted killing her husband Robert, a high-flying banker at Merrill Lynch, on November 2, 2003, but pleaded not guilty to murder, a charge that requires premeditation.
After several years in prison and a failed appeal in a lower court, Kissel arrived in a wheelchair and appeared downcast as a large press contingent scrimmaged around her.
"Nancy is very frail, emotionally and physically," said her defense lawyer Simon Clarke after the judgment was given by the five-member panel of judges. "She is obviously very delighted."
REMANDED IN CUSTODY
The court remanded Kissel in custody pending the retrial, though several of her supporters said they would help her post bail if an application was granted by the retrial judge.
"We hope to see her tomorrow," said Nancy Nassberg, a long-time friend. "Her body is weak, but she continues to fight and support victims of abuse."
The so-called "milkshake murder" case engrossed Hong Kong, offering a rare glimpse into the high-living lifestyle that some foreign professionals enjoy in the former British colony.
Prosecutors said Kissel gave Robert, 40, a milkshake spiked with a "cocktail of drugs" before cracking his skull several times with a heavy statuette. Kissel tried to dispose of his body by rolling it up in a carpet and putting it into a storage room.
They said Robert had been planning to divorce Nancy and wanted custody of their children after discovering she had an affair with a TV repairman in the United States.
In quashing Kissel's conviction, the judges described the lengthy trial as complex and riven with conflicting evidence. Kissel had argued that she was protecting herself after her husband tried to attack her with a baseball bat.
"Mrs. Kissel killed Mr. Kissel. That much is not in dispute," the judgment said. "But was the killing certainly murder or might it have been in self-defense?"
The judges also questioned whether the seven-person jury that convicted Kissel in the original trial may have been misdirected, given Kissel's argument that she had laced a drink to simply try to calm her husband, rather than as part of a plan to kill him.
"The miasma of those impermissible points was left to hang over the jury's deliberations," the judgment added.
Kissel's lawyers maintain she was provoked into the killing and acted in self-defense after suffering years of domestic abuse, including forced anal sex.