How to convict someone of first-degree murder without a body?

Jacksonville attorney weighs in on Joleen Cummings murder case

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville attorney is offering perspective in the Joleen Cummings murder case now that the prime suspect, Kimberly Kessler, has been charged with first-degree murder in the Nassau County woman's disappearance. While the public doesn't  know what evidence the state has yet, experts say it would require substantial evidence to back up their case.

Attorney Rhonda Peoples Waters, who is not affiliated with the case, said certain types of evidence would be needed in order for the state to get a conviction without Cummings' body.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson said she is confident Kessler will be convicted. "We feel very confident going forward." 

The first-degree premeditated murder charge was added just one day after News4Jax obtained several videos, witness interviews and documents from the state attorney's office in the case against Kessler.

Peoples Waters shared her thoughts about the case.

"(It's) very likely (there will be) some type of circumstantial evidence based on the surveillance video found, (and) there may be some DNA evidence that is available, maybe through the car," said Peoples Waters.

Even without a body, Peoples Waters said she thinks the jury will have no doubt Cummings was killed.

"The fact that this victim has just gone completely silent off the face of the earth, and the situation, we know she has minor children, is just so inconceivable that anything other than murder would've had her leaving her family like that," said Peoples Waters.

This would not be the first murder case to go to trial without a body.

Consider the murder of Brittany Foote. She was killed in 2015, and her boyfriend was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

Although Foote's body was never found there was enough DNA evidence to suggest she had been brutally murdered, and there was also a confession in that case.

However, the murder case of Cummings is different in one way in particular.

Kessler has refused to say anything about her involvement of the disappearance or murder of the Nassau County mother of three since the first day of her arrest.

Kimberly Kessler, charged with first-degree murder of Nassau County mom of three, Joleen Cummings.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Floridian anchors weekends and reports weekdays on issues in Nassau and Baker counties and beyond.