Ex-toxicologist convicted in husband's death to get new hearing - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Ex-toxicologist convicted in husband's death to get new hearing

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SAN DIEGO (CNS and News 8) - A federal appeals court panel today revived the efforts of a former San Diego County toxicologist to overturn her murder conviction for poisoning her husband nearly 10 years ago.

Kristin Rossum, now 33, was convicted of first-degree murder in November 2002 and sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing her husband, Gregory de Villers.

Prosecutors said Rossum poisoned the victim when he threatened to report her drug use and her affair with a supervisor.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said today Rossum's trial attorneys should have challenged the prosecution's contention that the 26-year-old de Villers died from an overdose of the powerful painkiller, fentanyl.

"Conceivably, the court will determine the results of the first trial were unconstitutional and that Ms. Rossum is entitled to a new trial," Professor David Steinberg of Thomas Jefferson School of Law told News 8. "We could have an entirely new trial of this case. That is a possibility."

This is a possibility that does not sit well with the victim's family, whom local attorney John Gomez represented in a wrongful death suit against Rossum in 2006, initially winning more than $100 million in punitive damages.

"Clearly, the notion of her getting out is troubling to them," Gomez said. "I think, at the most, there would be a re-trial, and I think on a re-trial she'd be convicted all over again."

The appeals panel said Rossum's defense team should have tested the victim's organs for metabolites of fentanyl, which the body produces when the liver processes the drug.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the matter back to U.S. District Court in San Diego for a hearing on whether the defense's failure to conduct the tests prejudiced the outcome of the trial.

Rossum's attorneys conceded that fentanyl was the cause of death, but said de Villers killed himself by overdosing on the drug.

Rossum's attorneys filed an appeal in federal court after her appeal in state court failed.

Legal analysts point out there are still many appeals that may be exhausted before Rossum could be granted a new trial, including requesting that the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals review this case, before an initial hearing is scheduled.

While punitive damages in the wrongful death lawsuit against Rossum were originally $104 million , that was later reduced to $14 million. As part of that suit, Rossum is also not allowed to profit from her story.

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