Murder of Joleen Cummings: Suspect Kimberly Kessler has been ruled competent to stand trial

During the competency hearing on Wednesday, Kessler screamed in court while strapped to a wheelchair

Nassau County, Fla. — Kimberly Kessler, the woman facing a murder charge in the death of Nassau County mother Joleen Cummings, was once again ruled competent to stand trial on Wednesday.

Kessler appeared in court Wednesday for yet another competency hearing to determine if she is mentally fit to stand trial. The judge said Kessler is showing the same pattern of behavior and the trial is expected to begin in August.

Kessler’s lawyers mentioned a possible motion for a change in venue for the trial.

Prosecutors have been ready to move forward with a criminal trial but Action News Jax reported last month when a Nassau County judge said previously the question surrounding competency must be resolved once and for all if the case is to move forward.

Kessler’s competence for trial has been a matter of debate for years since her arrest in the death of her former 34-year-old co-worker.

On Wednesday morning, Kessler appeared briefly in court.

She was brought into the latest competency hearing strapped to a wheelchair and repeatedly yelled, “Jordan Beard is Joleen Cummings’ cousin.” She was then kicked out to a holding cell where she appeared via Zoom.

That wasn’t the first time Kessler has mentioned someone attached to the case being related to Cummings. In October 2020, Kessler appeared at a court hearing and said she believed a member of the public defender’s office is related to Cummings and that they were conspiring against her. Kessler said Cummings spoke of him when they worked together at the Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee. Kessler asked for a new attorney then, but the judge denied her request. The claim is something the public defender’s office said is not true, despite Kessler’s arguments.

CASE BACKGROUND

Cummings was reported missing by her mother on May 14, 2018 after failing to pick up her three children from her ex-husband.

The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office then began an investigation in which they obtained evidence that led them to believe that Cummings was not alive, and that Kessler, whom investigators believe was the last person to see Cummings alive, was named a suspect in her disappearance and death.

Cummings’ body has never been found.

LATEST COMPETENCY HEARING

During Wednesday’s hearing, the judge heard disturbing testimony from several correction officers about her behavior in jail.

Many say Kessler repeatedly smeared her feces on the cell walls and door and that she often made sexual remarks.

Another deputy told the court that Kessler claimed that her mother was a Satanist and that’s “why she did what she did.”

As testimony continued, the court learned that Kessler is said to be “manipulative,” reads the Bible and knows it well and also made statements about committing suicide. One corrections officer testified that Kessler wanted to be put in general population so “the other inmates could kill her.”

Bailiffs tried to bring Kessler back into court on Wednesday afternoon, but she began screaming again and the judge said to “take her back downstairs.”

An attorney went to speak to her and said she just kept yelling.

Testimony continued and Dr. Louis Legum, a psychologist, said he believes Kessler has multiple disorders like delusional disorder and personality disorder.

Legum said people with delusional disorder can carry on with a job, live on their own, but a switch can flip, causing them to become unhinged and separated from reality.

PREVIOUS COMPETENCY EVALUATIONS

Kessler has been evaluated by multiple psychologists since being arrested.

In July 2019, a psychologist told a judge Kessler was not mentally competent to stand trial. Another psychologist told the court Kessler has a delusional disorder. The state appealed and ordered another mental health evaluation.

Licensed psychologist, Dr. Graham Danzer, with the Florida State Hospital, administered several tests on Kessler at the facility. Based on his findings, Danzer told the court he believed Kessler was competent to stand trial.

Kessler was seen yelling and cursing during a competency hearing in October 2020, but despite her public outbursts and starvation episodes, a judge declared her competent to stand trial.

Guards at the Nassau County jail reported that Kessler weighed 196 pounds when she was first arrested. By the fall of 2020, they said her weight had dropped to just 74 pounds.

In April 2021, Kessler was charged with battery against two law enforcement officers for attacking them with feces from her jail cell.

FOR MORE ON JOLEEN CUMMINGS:

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