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What you need to know about the Kimberly Kessler murder trial

The high-profile trial of a woman accused of murdering Nassau County mother and hairstylist Joleen Cummings begins Monday morning.

YULEE, Fla. — The trial of a woman accused of murdering 34-year-old Joleen Cummings begins Monday, more than three and a half years after the Yulee hairstylist and mother of three vanished.

Cummings was reported missing in May 2018 and is presumed dead. Kimberly Kessler, 53, is charged with first-degree murder. She has pleaded not guilty.

The case has drawn intense scrutiny and is the subject of both podcasts and an amateur sleuth group. 

Here’s a look back at the timeline of the case and what to can expect during the weeklong trial:

May 12, 2018 - Joleen Cummings, 34, is last seen leaving work at Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee

May 13, 2018 - Mother’s Day and Cummings’ birthday. (Surveillance camera video released later shows Kessler parking Cummings’ Ford Expedition in the Home Depot parking lot in Yulee, in the early morning hours of May 13.)

May 14, 2018 - Joleen Cummings is reported missing by her mother, Anne Johnson. Cummings failed to pick her children up from her ex-husband’s house the day before, but Jason Cummings didn’t notify police. He later said he assumed she was “on a bender somewhere.”

Police find Cummings' empty house in chaos, the result of a domestic disturbance days earlier with her boyfriend Jason Gee, in which police were called.

Both men were interviewed but eventually dismissed as suspects in the case.

May 15, 2018 - Cummings’ vehicle is discovered in the Home Depot Parking lot

May 16, 2018 - Kessler is located at a rest area in St. Johns County, parked in her Black Kia Soul between two semis. It was later revealed she’d been living out of her car for some time, using as many as 18 aliases while moving among 33 cities in 14 states.

May 17, 2018 - Kessler is booked into the SJC Jail.

May 19, 2018 - Kessler is booked into the Nassau County Jail.

May 22, 2018 Nassau Sheriff Bill Leeper names Kessler as a suspect in the Cummings case, saying they have found evidence that “leads us to believe Joleen is not alive.”

Sept. 7, 2018 - Kessler is charged with first-degree murder.

Sept. 25, 2018 - Circuit Judge Robert Foster issues a gag order after defense attorneys complain Sheriff Bill Leeper and the Cummings family are influencing potential jurors by publicly calling Kessler "evil" and a "violent killer."

March 5, 2019 - Defense attorneys say Kessler is mentally incompetent to stand trial.

July 3, 2019 - Judge James Daniel declares Kessler mentally incompetent to stand trial based on the evaluation of doctors and sends her to Florida State Hospital for treatment. He would reverse that finding in March 2020 and has consistently maintained since then that she is capable of standing trial.

April 2020 - June 2020 Kessler begins a hunger strike at the Duval County Jail (where she’d been moved because the victim’s stepfather, Connie Johnson was director of the Nassau County Jail). In June, the Duval County Jail declines to care for her any longer, citing the need for near-daily hospitalizations due to her borderline starvation. Kessler’s weight drops from 196 pounds when first arrested to just 74 pounds.

October 2020 - Kessler begins to act out in court and in her jail cell. She begins screaming that her former public defender, Jordan Beard, is Joleen Cummings' cousin. Judge Daniel says he has investigated her claim and that it is without merit. Kessler receives additional charges for spreading feces around her cell and throwing feces at jail employees.

October 2021 - Judge denies several defense motions to suppress evidence in the case, including shoes collected from Kessler’s storage facility with Cummings blood on them and scissors collected from Kessler’s car with Cummings’ blood on them.

November 2021- Defense lawyers file a flurry of motions to limit evidence in the case, including Kessler’s phone search history (which includes hundreds of searches for "Joleen Cummings" after she was reported missing), witness testimony about scratches on Kessler's face and records showing that she purchased zip ties. Judge denies those requests.

The Judge also grants several defense motions to suppress, including statements from Kessler’s ex-boyfriends, Kessler's 17 aliases, several wigs found in her storage unit and two machetes found in Cummings' SUV.

Nov. 29, 2021 Jury selection begins.

Dec. 1, 2021 - A panel of 12 jurors and two alternates are chosen. The jury is composed of eight women and four men, including four people of color. The alternate jurors include a white man and Black female. 

Dec. 6, 2021 Trial begins. Jurors are told to report to the Nassau County Courthouse by 8 a.m. Court is expected to get underway at 8:30 a.m.

You can watch the entire trial on the First Coast News app or by clicking on the red "Live Video" banner at www.firstcoastnews.com. The entire trial will also be streamed on the First Coast News YouTube page. Follow @schindy on Twitter for live courtroom updates. 

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