Petition: 89-pound Kimberly Kessler could starve self to death

Kessler charged in 2018 murder of Joleen Cummings, who worked at Tangles Hair Salon

Kessler charged in 2018 murder of Joleen Cummings, who worked at Tangles Hair Salon

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Kimberly Kessler, the woman charged with murdering her coworker that was a stylist at a Nassau County hair salon, is refusing to eat and won’t accept any medical treatment, according to an emergency petition obtained Wednesday by News4Jax.

The petition, filed by Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper, says Kessler is trying to kill herself by starvation. Leeper asked a judge for guidance, saying jail medical staff members do not have the resources necessary to force-feed the woman, who on Sept. 25 weighed 89 pounds. When she was arrested in May 2018, Kessler weighed almost 200 pounds.

On Monday, she began refusing to allow Sheriff’s Office staff to measure her body weight.

Because a judge in March found Kessler competent to stand trial, the Sheriff’s Office is asking for a precedent-setting ruling from the judge. As written in the petition, petitioners have no lawful means to prevent Kessler’s “suicide by starvation” without intervention of the court.

The order further states: “Respondent Kessler, who has been determined to be competent by different authorities, appears determined to exercise her right to refuse to eat pursuant to Florida’s Constitutional Right to Privacy.”

Kessler had a third mental evaluation, the results of which were sealed. On Monday, the judge will hold a third mental competency hearing. Subpoenas went out Thursday to a nurse from Starting Point Behavioral in Yulee and Nassau CSO Captain Paula DeLuca, who’s second in command at the jail.

News4Jax spoke with Dr. Justin D’Arienzo, a forensic psychologist, about Kessler’s behavior.

“Someone that is decompensating and has mental health issues, it’s really hard for them to sustain a hunger strike like what she’s doing," D’Arienzo said.

If a judge takes action D’Arienzo says she would likely be force-fed at a different facility that has the resources.

“Through an IV or through a nasogastric tube that would supply her with nutrients," D’Arienzo said.

In August, a court document filed by counsel representing Kessler, stated that she had been on a hunger strike. That document stated she was “in need of hospitalization for her mental illness."

Kessler is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Joleen Cummings, a 34-year-old mother of three. Cummings 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.

Joleen Cummings

Court documents state that investigators believe the hairstylist may have been killed inside Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee. Records provided to the defense attorney show that detectives and the lead prosecutor found bloodstains on a chair in the salon, the wall near the reception desk, a wooden display stand, a signboard, a vacuum cleaner leaning against the wall, another chair and a display rack next to the desk.

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.

Kessler is believed to be that last person to see Cummings alive.

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

About the Authors:

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.