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Day 2 of Lancaster murder trial

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 8:58 pm

The second day of the trial of James Todd Kessler concerning the disappearance and presumed murder of Claudine Gifford began Wednesday July, 29. Kessler has been charged with First Degree Murder and Concealment of a Dead Body.

The second day of Kessler’s murder trial resumed at 9 a.m. and was wall to wall witness testimony.

There was much entered into evidence including cell phone records, audio recordings, notes and photographs.

Witness after witness took the stand and testified that they were there on the evening Claudine Gifford was last seen. There was some discrepancy as to what they exactly remember concerning the details of the evening such as what time they left and what Kessler was wearing. But all witnesses recalled that Gifford was so intoxicated that she had to be carried out of the bar by Kessler on July 6, 2014 between 7 p.m. And 8:30 p.m.

Not one witness has disputed that Gifford had a drinking problem

Gifford’s husband, daughter and friends also testified today. Some of her friends she has kept in close touch with as far back as 25 years. They all say that they haven’t heard from her since July 6, 2014.

Claudine Gifford’s husband Rich Gifford came up a few days after the disappearance. He met up with Susan Page, a close friend from work. Rich and Page worked together to put together fliers and set up a donation fund and website. During Rich’s second visit to Virginia, on the night that a vigil was held for Claudine, Claudine’s husband and her best friend began a romantic relationship. This was roughly two months after Claudine had disappeared.

They both testified that they were heartbroken and needed someone to lean on. Page ended up moving to Florida to be with Rich a couple of months after they began their relationship. She ended up staying with Rich for close to seven months.

The star witness for the prosecution seemed to be her friend Susan Page. Page testified that the morning of July 7, 2014 something didn’t seem right. She suspected Kessler from the very beginning and began to take note of their correspondences. She had a detailed list of what he said, when he said it and also some audio recordings of their interactions.

The prosecution pointed out many discrepancies between what Kessler said and what was noted or recorded. The defense said that there were many holes and inconsistencies in Page’s notes.

The defense and prosecution both used Kessler and Gifford’s phone records and text messages from the day of her disappearance and the two days following it.

One of the most important pieces of evidence for the prosecution to show motive was a particular text message.

On July 6, 2014 at 8:24 p.m., a time that witnesses agree that Gifford was undoubtedly severely inebriated, the text from Gifford’s daughter was received on her phone asking when she was coming back because she thought she was just going back to VA to get her stuff.

The prosecution has stated that seeing this text coupled with drug and alcohol abuse is what pushed Kessler to murder her, because he thought she was going to leave him.

Testimony concluded at 7 p.m. On Thursday July, 30 at 9 a.m. the prosecution will resume calling their witnesses. The trial is expected to take the remainder of the week.


The trial is taking place in Spotsylvania County after a change of venue was approved due to the large amount of publicity and interest in Lancaster County. Harry Taliaferro is still the presiding Judge. The prosecution and defense remains the same. The only difference is the venue itself and the jury.

The makeup of the jury including alternates is eleven women and three men.

Prosecuting the case is Lancaster Commonwealth’s attorney Robert Cunningham and special prosecuting attorney Tony Spencer. Tony Spencer is a Commonwealth’s attorney out of Caroline County and was assigned to this case because of his 2009 conviction of Lawrence Gaudenzi on a murder charge where no body was ever found.

Todd Kessler’s defense counsel is Craig Cooley. Cooley defended one of the D.C. Snipers, Lee Boyd Malvo.