NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Kimberly Kessler was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday in the murder of her hair salon co-worker, Joleen Cummings.
Kessler watched the proceedings from a separate room after she was wheeled into court shouting loudly and wheeled straight back out Thursday afternoon at the start of her sentencing hearing.
Kessler, who has a history of outbursts during trial, was not present for even one day of her murder trial because she repeatedly shouted false claims about a former member of her defense team being related to Cummings.
She was removed again Thursday to a room where she could watch the proceedings with the option of returning to the courtroom if she chose to.
A relative read victim impact statements from Cummings’ sister. Then Cummings’ mother, Ann Johnson, who followed the case through every step of several years of legal delays, read hers. Cummings’ mother said it was the hardest thing she’s ever had to write.
“When my precious daughter was murdered, part of us died. Our family has struggled to make some sort of semblance of life ever since,” Johnson said, explaining that she was speaking on behalf of Cummings’ three children and her brother, who could not attend the hearing because he’s serving in the military. “We are still waiting for Joleen to walk through that door. But Joleen is never coming home. Not only are we traumatized, but this is a never-ending nightmare.”
Kessler was found guilty in December of first-degree murder in the death of the Nassau County mother of three who vanished in 2018. Cummings’ remains have never been found.
For Johnson, the verdict was the justice she had been praying for in the three and a half years following her 34-year-old daughter’s disappearance, but she pleaded with Kessler after the verdict to reveal where her daughter’s remains are so she can lay her to rest.
“If you could find it in your heart to tell us the remains of my daughter, where are the remains of my daughter? Give us some closure. I am asking you from one mother to another,” Johnson said in December.
Kessler was also found guilty of theft because she was seen on surveillance dumping Cummings’ vehicle in a parking lot the night she was last seen alive.
She was sentenced to five years on that charge, which will run concurrent to her life sentence, Judge James Daniel said. She will be given credit for time served since her arrest.
Johnson said Cummings’ murder robbed her of the chance to watch her children grow up and to share their most important milestones with them, like birthdays, graduations and having their own children someday.
“We suffered the greatest nightmare of all. Her beautiful soul was taken from us,” Johnson said. “The only thing that keeps us together is faith that one day we will be reunited.”
During the trial, prosecutors focused heavily on blood and DNA evidence found inside the Tangles hair salon, other evidence found inside Kessler’s car and storage unit, plus her internet searches which included “female murderers by country,” “Florida female murderers,” and “Joleen Cummings no body no crime.” And, the fact that Joleen Cummings had not been seen or heard from in over three years.
The defense said the women got into an argument over drugs in the workplace.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper also said one person helped solve the case: Cummings.
“She left her blood and she left her DNA, and that’s what got her. That’s what helped us close this case out,” he said. “I don’t believe that for one second that Kimberly Kessler, or whatever name she is going by today, I don’t believe this is her first murder. I don’t at all.”
News4JAX has reported on Kessler’s history of using fake names — 17 different names in total.
The case faced years of legal delays, including Kessler being found not competent for trial before that decision was reversed.