A Nassau County jury in Florida found Kimberly Kessler guilty of killing her co-worker, Joleen Cummings, who’s been described as a loving, doting mother of three.
It took the jury around an hour of deliberations on Thursday before they returned the verdict, finding Kessler guilty of first-degree murder and theft. Kessler, who made several outbursts during previous hearings, refused to be in the courtroom while the verdict was read.
Kessler faces mandatory life in prison. Her sentencing date is scheduled for January 27 at 1:30 p.m.
“We miss Joleen every second of the day — my family, our families, the Cummings’ families, the children,” Cummings’ mother, Ann Johnson, said after the verdict. “Not a day goes by. But I really feel like Joleen is with us today. I felt like she’s actually been in that courtroom with us.”
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Cummings was reported missing on Mother’s Day 2018, after she failed to pick up her three children. Both Kessler and Cummings worked at the Tangles Hair Salon in Fernandina Beach at the time. Police said Kessler was the last person to see Cummings alive while they were both inside the salon.
One of Cummings’ final text messages was played in court this week. She reportedly called her new co-worker, Kessler, “bossy.”
“She’s been real negative,” Cummings told her boss in a text message. “Trying to avoid her.”
State prosecutors said during opening statements that although Cummings’ body has never been recovered, there was substantial DNA left behind at the crime scene that matched Kessler.
“As Joleen Cummings made plans for the next day of her life, the defendant had planned Joleen’s death,” Prosecutor Donna Thurston said.
Authorities found Cummings’ SUV abandoned close to a local Home Depot store a few days after her disappearance. Surveillance camera footage captured Kessler parking Cummings’ vehicle a little after 1 a.m.
The security footage showed Kessler getting out of the driver’s side of the SUV but Cummings never emerged. According to an affidavit, Kessler then walked to the nearby Gates gas station, where she got into a taxi cab.
On May 16, 2018, police located Kessler sleeping inside a black Kia Soul at a rest area off of Interstate 95 in St. John’s County. She was arrested and charged with grand theft auto, based on the footage of her driving the victim’s car. Police also noted she had scratches on one hand and one eye.
In June 2018, Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper announced at a press conference that Kessler has lived under 17 names in 33 cities spanning over 14 states since 1996. He said that he doesn’t believe Nassau County, located in the northeast corner of the sunshine state along the Atlantic Ocean, has ever seen a case like it before.
“We’re not quite sure yet why all the disguises or if she has been involved in the disappearance of anyone else before, but it seems she is definitely running from something,” Leeper told reporters.
“I’m not sure what she was hiding from, but this time she came to the wrong county and messed with the wrong people. Hopefully, she will never have the opportunity to do anything like this ever again.”
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Here is a previous episode on the case.
[Feature Photo: Joleen Cummings (left)/Handout; Kimberly Kessler/Police Handout]