40ºF

Defense seeking to have evidence in Kimberly Kessler case thrown out

Kessler charged in 2018 murder of Joleen Cummings, co-worker at Tangles Hair Salon

YULEE, Fla. – Four motions were filed Wednesday to suppress evidence in the case of Kimberly Kessler, the woman charged with killing her coworker at a hair salon in Yulee.

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.

Kessler’s attorneys claim that Kessler was located through unlawful use of cellphone site technology, and that any evidence gathered as a result of the detention in St. Johns County should be suppressed.

Her attorneys say that statements Kessler made to St. Johns County deputies should be suppressed because she was questioned before she was read her Miranda rights. They say statements she made at the St. Johns County Jail should also be suppressed, saying they were the fruit of an unlawful arrest.

The defense has also sent the prosecution a list of witnesses it wants to call, including Nassau County and St Johns County deputies and investigators, two FBI agents, and retired Judge Robert Foster, who issued the search warrants in the case.

At a pretrial hearing Thursday morning, Kessler, who was deemed competent to stand trial in October, had yet another outburst that got her removed from the virtual hearing.

Kessler at first asked the sergeant: “Why don’t you just put me back in my cell?” and then turned to the camera and started yelling, saying she wants the public defender’s office removed from the case. She repeated previous claims that someone in the public defender’s office is related to Cummings, but the judge -- after having her removed to her cell -- said those claims were addressed in a previous hearing and found to be untrue.

“If she wants to represent herself, that’s fine. But she just wanted Jordan Beard off for this reason, which is factually not true,” Judge James Daniel said.

Daniel said he wants a realistic trial date to be set as soon as possible, potentially for next May or June, but for now, he said, Kessler’s attorneys need to plan to be ready for a hearing on the evidence suppression motions in December.

One of Kessler’s attorneys said Thursday that they anticipate at least 10 more motions being filed, and the prosecutor asked for those to be done as soon as possible.

An emergency order from the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office in September requested guidance from a judge, saying Kessler was refusing to eat and wouldn’t accept any medical treatment. A week later, the judge dismissed the petition, which stated that Kessler was trying to kill herself by starvation.

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: