NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Early Friday morning, Kimberly Kessler was transferred out of the Nassau County jail to the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Marion County to begin her life sentence for the murder of 34-year-old Joleen Cummings.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said Thursday after Kessler’s mandatory sentence was made official by Judge James Daniel that Kessler’s departure is the start of a celebration for his deputies -- who were treated to cake and ice cream after she left the jail.
“We’re going to celebrate her home going, because her new home, for the rest of her life, until she takes her last breath, is going to be Florida State Prison,” Leeper said. “She has over the past few weeks attempted to take her life and was unsuccessful, but we wanted to keep her safe in our jail so we could get rid of her and put her in the state’s hands and let them deal with her now.”
While in jail, according to authorities, Kessler assaulted corrections officers with feces and refused to eat for nearly two months during a hunger strike.
Leeper said the costs borne by Nassau County taxpayers for Kessler’s custody since her arrest over 3 ½ years ago have been staggering.
“A conservative estimate cost for her suicide watch, medical costs, transportation and food amounted to over $215,000,” Leeper said in a news release.
Kessler’s transfer took place before daybreak Friday when a van pulled up to the sally port. Before the deputy closed the door, he threw up a “rock on” gesture toward the cameras watching nearby. A short time later, the van pulled away with Kessler inside.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, the reception center in Ocala where Kessler was taken Friday holds about 1,200 female inmates. It also says the center provides mental health services, education and chaplain programs.
Her new mug shot was posted by Saturday morning.
Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with this case, said Kessler will undergo a screening process to determine which prison she will serve her sentence.
“There will be testing done. There will be health checks done. They will be assessed for any programs and what their security risk is,” Nichols said. “She will spend at least 30 to potentially 60 days in the women’s reception center, but they will place her in the most correct facility.”
Kessler was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the murder of Cummings, her co-worker at a Nassau County hair salon.
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.
The case faced years of legal delays, including Kessler being found not competent for trial before that decision was reversed.
Cummings was reported missing in May 2018. Her remains have never been found. She is remembered as a loving mother, daughter, and friend. Her mother, Ann Johnson, was in court yesterday and gave a victim impact statement about what life has been like without Joleen.
“Just the word murder haunts us. We can’t bear knowing the evidence. How Joleen died a horrendous death is etched in our minds forever,” Johnson said. “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.”
RELATED: ‘Never-ending nightmare’: Joleen Cummings’ mother shares family’s grief as killer sentenced to life
Kessler was found guilty in December of first-degree murder in the death of the Nassau County mother of three. 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 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.”