Kristin Rossum, a San Diego County toxicologist, killed her husband with a powerful drug and tried to make it look like a suicide by placing rose petals on his body.
In 2002, the case made national headlines. Likely because the rose petals led some to dub Rossum the "American Beauty Killer" as a comparison to a scene from the movie "American Beauty."
Eight years later, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that Rossum's trial attorneys made a big mistake with her defense because they didn't look for other possible causes of death. The attorneys just believed the prosecutors' claim that Gregory de Villers died from fentanyl poisoning, according to the ruling.
Rossum's new attorney says the reasonable doubt comes down to the amount of fentanyl in de Villers' body from his autopsy report.
"At three nanograms you stop breathing and at six or seven nanograms, you're dead," said attorney William Genego.
Genego said de Villers was in a coma for 12 hours, yet, he had 56 nanograms of fentanyl in his body.
"That does not make sense because you can not get the levels up that high, he would be dead already," Genego said.
The judges cited the possibility that the autopsy samples may have been contaminated with the fentanyl after de Villers' death.
Von Helms says if de Villers died from fentanyl poisoning, his liver would have metabolites. That's why the appeals court is recommending new tests be done on his liver to see if metabolites are present, she said.
"If they're not there, then the liver did not process them, then that is not what killed him,"von Helms said. "That would be hugely exculpatory toward her."
When contacted by phone Rossum's mother Constance Rossum said, "We're just delighted, we have always believed in her innocence."
Although the judges ordered an evidentiary hearing for Rossum, the Attorney General's Office has 14 days to challenge it.