A woman was found guilty of killing her husband and a woman to collect more than $175,000 in insurance, and the prosecutor says the conviction in the nation's first death-by-product-tampering trial will stop drug tamperers.
Stella Nickell, 44, of suburban Auburn, was convicted Monday of all five counts in the deaths of her 52-year-old husband, Bruce, and Sue Katherine Snow, 40, also of Auburn.Federal court jurors, who deliberated nearly five days, said Mrs. Nickell's daughter's testimony against her mother proved crucial. Mrs. Nickell, scheduled for sentencing June 17, could receive life in prison. Prosecutors also are considering state murder charges.
"It was all there for (jurors) to make this decision," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanne Maida said, adding that the verdict will "be a deterrent" to would-be drug tamperers.
Jury foreman Murray M. Andrews, 55, said the panel was split 11-1 in favor of conviction through its first three votes.
Juror Laurel Holliday, who wept when the verdict was announced, told U.S. District Judge William Dwyer on Monday she received an anonymous call Friday from a woman who said, "Don't you all know she (Mrs. Nickell) failed the lie detector test?"
Results of Mrs. Nickell's polygraph test were not introduced as evidence.
Holliday said she told no other jurors about the call and vowed to disregard the information when the judge told her to do so.
Defense lawyer Tom Hillier, who declined Dwyer's offer to excuse Holliday, said Monday night he planned to appeal.
"Assuming the 11-1 split included a vote of not guilty by the same juror who reported having been tampered with earlier this morning, then it's my belief that that's no coincidence and that that has to be investigated if for no other reason than to insure the integrity of the jury system," he said.
The testimony of Cindy Hamilton, Mrs. Nickell's 28-year-old daughter, was decisive. "I think without Cindy's testimony there were, you might say, too many missing links in the chain of evidence," he said.
Hamilton testified her mother discussed killing Nickell by a drug overdose or by hiring a hit man.