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Dismemberment experiment with knife purchased by Kimberly Kessler lasted just 73 minutes

Prosecutors ordered the experiment to see if it was possible to dismember a cadaver using the electric knife Kimberly Kessler bought the night of the crime.

YULEE, Fla. — The knife Kimberly Kessler bought the night her victim disappeared could have been used to dismember a human body. That was the conclusion of a report documenting the work of a forensic anthropologist hired by prosecutors.

Kessler was convicted last week of murdering her coworker, Joleen Cummings, a 34-year-old mother of three last seen May 12, 2018. Her body has never been found, but prosecutors believe she was murdered and dismembered at the Yulee hair salon where both women worked before her body was disposed of offsite.

RELATED: Jury finds Kimberly Kessler guilty of first-degree murder in death of Joleen Cummings

The report, obtained by First Coast News, documents the 73-minute experiment in photos and descriptions. (An accompanying video was not released). In it, Dr. Heather Walsh-Haney, an associate professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, used a donated cadaver and a 9-Inch Black & Decker electric carving knife like the one Kessler purchased at Walmart the night Cummings disappeared.

Walsh-Haney said she was able to sever the neck, shoulder, arm and knee of a donated cadaver using the 9-inch blade. She was not able to cut through the thigh bone despite “two attempts to dismember the right femur at midthigh." The report notes, “the electric knife motor began to spark; thus causing a fire hazard.”

The report, titled Postmortem Dismemberment Experiment Using a Human Cadaver, became controversial in the case because it wasn’t turned over to defense attorneys until October -- just five weeks before trial -- despite being completed in May 2019. The judge ultimately said prosecutors could not call Haney as a witness.

Kessler’s mental competence was a persistent issue throughout the case, and she ultimately did not attend her own trial, watching the proceedings via a remote video link. She is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27 at 1:30 p.m.

A summary of the report follows:

At the request of the 4th Circuit State Attorney's Office, I conducted an experiment using a Black+ Decker® 9-Inch Electric Carving Knife (Model EK500W with a stainless steel blade 9 inches long) (Figure 1 &Figure 2).

Specifically, I tested the null hypothesis that the Black+ Decker® 9-Inch Electric Carving Knife would not cut through human bone at the neck and extremities due to the weakness of the knife motor and fragility of the blade.

I operationalized this experiment using one donated human cadaver from the Human Identity and Trauma Analysis program at Florida Gulf Coast University. The donor was a 62- year-old European or "White" male. During the experiment, the cadaver was supine on an autopsy cart. Using a Canon DSLR camera, the electric knife and cadaver were photographed prior to the attempted dismemberment.

During the experiment, video footage was recorded using the same camera. Time was kept using the camera's internal time tracking application.

Summary of Findings:

Seven (7) attempts to dismember the cadaver were recorded and included the neck (N = 1), left shoulder (N = 1), left arm (N = 1), left thigh (N = 1), right thigh (N = 2), and right knee (N = 1).

The following changes to the cadaver were observed:

1. Neck-the electric knife separated the skull from the mid-cervical vertebrae in 4 minutes (Figure 3).

2. Left shoulder-the electric knife separated the left humeral head from the scapula and clavicle in 43 seconds (Figure 4).

3. Left arm-mid-shaft of the humerus was separated into two pieces in 11 minutes. The electric knife did not completely cut through the humeral shaft. Rather, the humeral shaft fractured and formed a breakaway spur (Symes 1992) (Figure 5).

4. Left thigh-the attempt to dismember the left femur at mid-thigh was unsuccessful. The experiment concluded after 8 minutes (Figure 6).

5. Right thigh-there were two (2) attempts to dismember the right femur at midthigh. The first concluded after 13 minutes and was unsuccessful. The second attempt concluded after 1 7 minutes because the electric knife motor began to spark; thus causing a fire hazard. The electric knife did partially expose the medullary cavity of the bone. The final depth of the second cut was < 1 cm (Figure 7).

6. Right knee- the right distal femur, proximal tibia, and patella was separated at the knee after 19 minutes (Figure 8).

7. The total elapsed time for this experiment was 73 minutes and 43 seconds.

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