JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jury selection started Monday morning in the Nassau County Courthouse in the murder trial for Kimberly Kessler who is accused of killing a mother of three in 2018.
Joleen Cummings was reported missing after she never showed up to pick up her children on Mother’s Day.
Investigators believe Kessler is the last person to see Cummings alive at the Tangles Hair Salon where they both worked. Cummings body has never been found.
Kessler was brought into the courtroom as proceedings began Monday around 8:30 a.m. but was promptly removed seconds later after she yelled “Jordan Beard is Joleen’s cousin.” The outburst, which she has repeated at nearly every court appearance, is an accusation about one of her former defense attorneys that has been proven untrue.
After she was dismissed, potential jurors were brought in one by one to answer questions from attorneys.
Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, said it’s unprecedented for a defendant to be out of the courtroom during jury selection.
“While Judge [James] Daniel was very specific that he was not going to allow her to disrupt the proceedings, it’s still very unusual to not have the defendant there. The defendant has the right to be there during jury selection and has the right to give their thoughts and opinions as to each one of the individual potential jurors,” Nichols said.
Nichols said Daniel took every step he possibly could to allow Kessler to be in the courtroom.
During questioning, potential jurors were asked questions about news media consumption and if they had any previous knowledge of the case involving Kessler.
“The main reason they continue to ask these same questions over and over is to find out whether they’ve been influenced by the news, newspaper or social media. Clearly the first line of questions in this case is let’s weed our jurors who’ve been affected by what they’ve seen in the news and have developed a preconceived opinion about this case,” Nichols said.
“Can you set aside what you’ve heard in this case and decide this case based solely on the evidence presented in this courtroom and the evidence of the law I gave you?” Judge Daniel asked one juror who replied “yes.”
For other possible jurors, the issue wasn’t media exposure, it was a direct relationship of some sort with either Cummings, Kessler or their families.
Nichols anticipates jury selection to take at least one week.
“The reason is that we have seen in other high-profile cases, everybody in Nassau County is going to know this case. Everybody knows something about this case,” Nichols said.
Over the years, the state released a slew of evidence, showing blood found in the salon and surveillance of Kessler in Cummings SUV, without her.
Just last week, Kessler’s attorneys filed a new motion suggesting Cummings could have become violent with Kessler after an argument about drugs found in Cummings purse in the salon.
Over the years, the woman with 17 aliases, has undergone three mental competency evaluations. The judge ultimately ruled her competent to stand trial. One week before jury selection, the defense requested another mental competency evaluation.
“While you usually don’t see a motion this late, it clearly predicated on the fact that the defense is having a difficult time, if not impossible time communicating with their client and working with their client as they go to trial,” said Nichols.
The judge said Kessler can participate in jury selection but it’s unclear if she will be brought into the courtroom again Tuesday when proceedings resume.