YULEE, Fla. – Prosecutors have agreed to a motion from the defense attorney for a woman suspected in the murder of a Nassau County hairstylist that asked the court to ban anyone involved in the case from speaking publicly about it.
Attorney Charlie Cofer argued that Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper and the family of Joleen Cummings, who disappeared in May, are influencing potential jurors in the murder case against Kimberly Kessler by publicly calling Kessler "evil" and a "violent killer."
Kessler, 44, is the only suspect in the disappearance of her co-worker and is facing a charge of first-degree murder.
Cofer filed a motion last week asking the court to stop "all parties and law enforcement officers involved in this case, or other persons having any knowledge of the facts of this case" from commenting publicly about the case.
Cofer's motion said public comments made by the sheriff, the state attorney and members of Cummings' family "will irreversibly prejudice [Kessler's] right to a fair trial in Nassau County."
Cofer asserted that between May 13 and Sept. 12, Leeper had appeared on TV and offered "public opinions about the facts of this case and opinions about the defendant's guilt herein."
The State Attorney's Office agreed to the motion Thursday, and no more public comments will be made in Kessler's case.
According to attorney Randy Reep, who is not affiliated with the case, the whole purpose of the gag order is to make sure the court can seat an impartial jury, meaning one not pre-disposed to the outcome of a trial.
At this point, Reep said, with the statements the sheriff and others have made, the prosecutors have an advantage in the court of opinion, but Kessler's defense team wins with the agreement of the gag order.
A grand jury indicted Kessler for murder after Cummings, 34, disappeared. Cummings, a mother of three, was presumed dead not long after she vanished on Mother's Day. Investigators said they had evidence to believe Cummings was "no longer alive," but they have never provided details.
The murder charge was announced a day after News4Jax obtained several videos, witness interviews and hundreds of documents -- including investigative reports -- from the State Attorney's Office in the case against Kessler, who authorities said is believed to be the last person to see Cummings on May 12 at the Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee where they both worked.
Kessler, who Leeper said has lived in 33 cities in 14 states under 17 names since 1996, is being held without bond.
Pictured above is Kessler's most recent mug shot from the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, after she was booked in ahead of her most recent hearing.