Psychologists differ on whether Kimberly Kessler is fit to stand trial

Judge to consider testimony and decide Woman charged in murder of salon co-worker

YULEE, Fla. – Two established psychologists testified Friday in Nassau County court, sharing opposing opinions about whether a woman accused of killing her co-worker at a Nassau County hair salon in 2018 is fit to stand trial.

Kessler, who is charged with murdering Joleen Cummings, has been committed to Florida State Hospital since Judge James Daniel ruled her not competent for prosecution last July.

Late last year, staff at the hospital found Kessler was competent, and a new hearing was set to review her case.

Dr. Graham Danzer, a psychologist at Florida State Hospital, testified Friday that he gave Kessler three tests during his evaluation of her and found her to be competent.

Kessler was sent to the hospital after Daniel agreed with a state-appointed psychologist and a psychiatrist hired by Kessler’s defense who both said she was not competent for trial.

Danzer told the court on Friday that Kessler was generally cooperative and respectful and would listen to basic instruction but was not always cooperative. She did refuse some classes and services and expressed unusual beliefs, but Danzer doesn’t think she is delusional or incompetent.

He said he believes she could discuss the facts of her case and should be able to so with her attorney with reasonable understanding.

During cross-examination, Kessler’s new defense attorney questioned her behavior and if it was delusional. The attorney said he’s tried to visit her several times and she’s refused to come out of her cell. And when she came to the defense table on Friday, he said, she told him to stay away from her.

At a November hearing in Nassau County, Kessler called her previous attorney, Teresa Sopp, “a piece of garbage” in court, prompting Sopp to tell the judge she planned to request to withdraw from the case because of conflict with Kessler.

COURT DOCUMENTS: Incompetency order | DCF notice of updated evaluation

Sopp and another psychologist, Dr. Louis Legum, testified Friday that Kessler should not be found competent for prosecution.

Legum gave his opinion in 2019 that Kessler suffers from a delusional disorder and upheld that opinion Friday, saying that Kessler has refused multiple times to see him and her previous attorney. Kessler’s been unable to answer questions to them about the case because of the delusional disorder, he said.

Sopp testified that she believes Kessler is mentally ill.

“She talked with Detective Douglas for 30 minutes about the bedbug infestation in her car and how she had consulted all of these pesticide companies to come and deinfest her car of bed bugs, just ranting sort of disconnectedly about bed bugs," Sopp said.

She told the court in multiple instances she’s tried to meet with Kessler about the case and Kessler’s responses were manic and nonsensical.

Because of all the testimony presented from both sides, Daniel will take about a month to review everything that was said before making his decision, which is expected March 26.

Cummings' mother, Anne Johnson, was at Friday's hearing and said she's disappointed the case isn't further along.

"Joleen deserves justice. We’re almost on two years,” Johnson said. “We just want Joleen found. We don’t want them to stop looking for Joleen.”

Johnson said she hopes Kessler is found competent so the trial can move forward.

Murder charge

Kessler is charged with first-degree murder in Cummings’ death. Investigators suspect Kessler, who worked with Cummings at Tangles hair salon in Yulee, was the last person to see Cummings alive.

Joleen Cummings
Joleen Cummings

Cummings (pictured), 34, has been missing since May 2018, and although her body has not been found, investigators said they found several notable items at a Georgia landfill.

Following Cummings’ disappearance, her SUV was found parked outside a Home Depot. Kessler was arrested May 16 after investigators said they found footage showing her getting out of the vehicle.

Since then, the state has released reams of evidence in the case through the discovery process that suggest a struggle occurred at the salon and that steps were taken to dispose of that evidence.

The case has attracted national attention in part because authorities said Kessler, who went by Jennifer Sybert, has used 17 aliases over the years.

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