Kessler denied appeal on murder conviction

by Audrey Thomasson

RICHMOND—The Virginia Court of Appeals on Friday rejected an appeal request from James Todd Kessler, convicted in the August 2014 murder of 43-year-old Claudine Jaquier Gifford.

According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Jan Smith, Kessler’s attorney has 14 days to appeal that decision.

Kessler’s trial was moved to Spotslyvania County Circuit Court just over a year after Gifford’s disappearance on July 6, 2014.

Gifford was the mother of a 14-year old daughter. She was last seen leaving a bar at Windmill Point Marina with Kessler.

After a six-day trial in August 2015, a jury convicted him of second degree murder and disposal of a body. The jury of 10 women and two men agreed with special prosecutor Tony Spencer and gave Kessler, 55, the maximum sentence of 40 years in prison for the murder and five years for concealment of the body.

The sentence was upheld in December 2015 by Judge Harry T. Taliaferro III. At that time, Judge Taliaferro acknowledged the case was based on circumstantial evidence but that Kessler’s sentence was appropriate.

Gifford’s body has never been recovered. It was only the fourth conviction for murder without a body in the Commonwealth.