Appeals court revives La Jolla woman’s efforts to overturn murder conviction

By City News Service

A federal appeals court panel on Thursday 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. They were La Jolla residents.

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 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.

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.