NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Testimony concluded Wednesday morning in the murder trial of Kimberly Kessler, who’s accused of killing her Nassau County salon co-worker Joleen Cummings.
Jurors were dismissed before noon Wednesday and will return at 8:15 a.m. Thursday for closing arguments. Then they’ll deliberate.
Kessler was brought into the courtroom three times Wednesday. The judge wanted to give her a chance to participate. All three times she had outbursts, mostly shouting, “Jordan Beard is Joleen Cummings’ cousin,” something she has said repeatedly through the course of the trial. Jordan Beard is Kessler’s previous attorney who is not Cummings’ cousin. The jury was not in the courtroom during these moments, and Kessler was removed and placed into a separate room where she could watch the proceedings. Kessler had similar outbursts in court Monday and Tuesday.
The defense rested after only calling one witness: Lead Detective Wayne Harrington, who had previously testified for the state. The defense showed Harrington a baggie found in the Tangles Hair Salon days after Cummings disappeared. He described the baggie as having a chalky-like substance but doesn’t believe it was tested for evidence. It’s unclear where the baggie was found in the salon. Last month, the defense filed a motion saying Cummings and Kessler got into an argument over drugs in the workplace.
The state rested after putting several witnesses on the stand for two days.
Prosecutors focused Wednesday on Kessler’s internet searches. Nassau County Sheriff’s Office Detective Charity Rose testified about thousands of searches in Kessler’s phone in the days leading up to Cummings’ disappearance May 12, 2018. According to Rose, searches included the following terms: “autopsy,” “cadavers,” “murderpedia,” “victimpedia,” “female murderers by country” and “Florida female murderers.” On May 16, according to Rose, Kessler searched “Joleen Cummings no body no crime,” as well as other things regarding Cummings’ disappearance.
The defense argued that there was no way to know the full context behind the searches or who was physically doing them.
Michelle Money testified that Kessler asked her whether the Storage on Sadler facility had live video surveillance and asked if it was recorded. Another witness, an employee at West Marine in Fernandina Beach, said Kessler bought heavy-duty zip ties there on May 5, 2018, and paid for them in cash.
Cummings, a 34-year-old mother of three, disappeared in May 2018 and her body has never been found.
Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, talked about what to expect now that the state and defense have rested and closing arguments will begin.
“The state is going to methodically go through each piece of evidence and try and lay out for the jury as much as they can, why they believe all this evidence rises to the level of convicting her for the charge of murder,” Nichols said. “You’re then going to see the defense get up in their closing arguments, and they are going to very quickly argue that there is no proof as to how the victim died because we do not have a body and we have no real method or motive or reason.”
Much of Tuesday’s testimony from detectives focused on evidence found inside Tangles Hair Salon, where the women worked together. Investigators believe that evidence shows Kessler attacked and killed Cummings in the salon.
Prosecutors also focused on Kessler’s boots, which were found inside her storage unit. She was seen wearing them the day Cummings was last seen alive, and dried blood drops were found on the boots.
The defense has suggested that it’s possible Kessler and Cummings got into a fight and injuries Kessler suffered were caused by her protecting herself.
The jury was also shown pictures of the inside of both women’s cars. During cross examination, the defense argued that there should have been blood everywhere, even inside those cars, but none was found.
Harrington returned to the witness stand Tuesday and explained how investigators went to a landfill to search the garbage Kessler dumped in a dumpster. Harrington testified it was July 7, 2018, the heat index reached 117 degrees, and the search teams wore ice vests.
The landfill search continued for days. Cummings’ body was not found, but the state suggested there was enough DNA evidence to prove Kessler killed Cummings. The defense said without a body there’s no proof of a murder.
Prosecutors began the trial Monday with a timeline, highlighting Kessler’s purchases and internet searches, as well as surveillance video in the days surrounding Cummings’ disappearance.
Opening statements were followed by several witnesses, including Anne Johnson, Cummings’ mother. Johnson testified that it wasn’t her daughter’s personality to just disappear. “She didn’t even acknowledge her birthday,” Johnson said.
Cummings was first reported missing after she never showed up to pick up her children on Mother’s Day 2018.
Multiple witnesses testified that they went to Tangles Hair Salon on May 12, 2018, and saw hairdressers Cummings and Kessler. It’s the last day Cummings was seen. Cummings’ ex-husband, Jason Cummings, testified that Joleen Cummings never picked up their two young sons from him the next day, which was Mother’s Day. “I was waiting for her to pull up. I waited about an hour. I tried to contact Joleen,” he said.
Over the years, the state has released a slew of evidence, including photos of blood found in the salon and surveillance footage of Kessler in Joleen Cummings’ SUV, without her.
Kessler was also seen on surveillance video carrying trash bags from Tangles Hair Salon to a dumpster behind the building.
And a receipt shows Kessler bought cleaning gloves, ammonia, trash bags and an electric knife around the same time Joleen Cummings disappeared.
State prosecutors opened by saying Cummings was killed by Kessler, and though a body was never found, there was a large amount of Joleen Cummings’ DNA left behind at the salon. Investigators found a blue bin that contained a partial fingernail of Joleen Cummings. Prosecutors also told the jury in opening statements that Kessler search the internet on April 30, 2018, for “co worker guilty of killing co worker.”
The defense said this case is about evidence and a lack of evidence. The defense also acknowledged that Kessler and Joleen Cummings worked together and had an ongoing conflict.
Prior to taking the stand, Joleen Cummings’ mother posted in the “Joleen Jensen Cummings Recovery and Prayer Page.” She also sent News4JAX this message: