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Tiki bar attack brings jail time

LANCASTER—A man authorities have described as a person of interest in the disappearance of Claudine Jaquier Gifford was sentenced this week to 12 months in jail for assault and battery of a woman outside the same Northern Neck bar near where Gifford was last seen July 6.

Lancaster County General District Judge Gordon A. Wilkins also found enough evidence to send to a grand jury felony assault and malicious wounding charges against James Todd Kessler, 53, as a result of injuries to William G. Rose Sr., the 68-year-old husband of the victim in the assault and battery case. A nurse steered William Rose into Wednesday’s preliminary hearing in a wheelchair.

Wanda and William Rose testified they were having drinks and dinner July 19 at the Pelicans at the Point beachfront bar at Windmill Point in White Stone when Kessler approached them and asked if the police had questioned them about the missing woman. The Roses, who said they met Kessler and Gifford once briefly at the bar, told him they were not in town when a massive search was taking place.

The Roses said Kessler left but then returned and asked, “Do you think I killed her?” Wanda Rose said she told Kessler she had a dream that Gifford was chained and alive in an old house.

The Roses said Kessler slammed down his drink and said, “She’s dead.” Wanda Rose said Kessler returned one more time later and asked, “Do you think I killed her?” She said she told him no.

William Rose said when he went to pay his bill, Kessler approached him and, after an exchange of words, grabbed him by the throat and shoved him to the floor. Adam G. Rowe, the bar’s security guard, testified that he grabbed Kessler and told them both to pay up and leave.

Rowe described Kessler as intoxicated and angry. He said he and the bar owner tried to keep Kessler at the bar to calm him and give the Roses time to leave, but after 15 minutes, Kessler told them, “You can’t keep me here” and left.

Rowe said Kessler jumped across a 2-foot-high retaining wall, then ran about 100 feet to catch up with the Roses as they walked hand-in-hand down a concrete path. Wanda Rose said Kessler body-slammed her and attacked her husband.

Rowe said Kessler struck William Rose in the head, slammed him down, punched him in the head about three times, then kicked him. Rowe said he grabbed Kessler in time to stop the two from falling into the harbor at Windmill Point Marina.

“They were extremely close to falling between a boat in the water,” Rowe testified. “William Rose was unconscious in a ball on the ground.”

It was later determined that William Rose had a broken femur.

Rowe said he handcuffed Kessler and brought him to a picnic table until deputies arrived and charged Kessler with being drunk in public. The Roses filed charges several days later and Kessler has been held without bond since July 23.

In addition to handing down a 12-month sentence, Judge Wilkins ordered Kessler to pay $2,500, the maximum jail time and fine allowed for assault and battery. He also fined Kessler $346 for public intoxication.

Kessler’s attorney, James Breeden, filed an appeal Thursday.

The grand jury is scheduled to meet Oct. 24 to decide whether to indict Kessler in the case involving William Rose. Felony aggravated assault and malicious wounding convictions could bring up to 20 years in prison.

Five of Kessler’s family members, including two brothers, his son and brother-in-law sat through the proceedings silently. Kessler, shackled and dressed in an orange jumpsuit, sat quietly, whispering only a few times with his attorneys.

The Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the disappearance of Gifford, who was last seen by Kessler outside the tiki bar at the entrance to Windmill Point. Lancaster Sheriff Ronald D. Crockett has said Kessler is considered a “person of interest” in the case.

A sheriff’s spokesman said this week that the case is still active, but investigators had nothing new to report.

Some of Gifford’s friends were in the courtroom Wednesday, but her husband and teenage daughter have returned to Orlando, Fla., where Gifford, 44, lived before moving to the Northern Neck last June.

Earlier Wednesday, Wilkins ordered Kessler to serve 180 days in jail for eluding in an unrelated July 13 incident in which state police attempted to stop him for speeding on a motorcycle. The judge also suspended Kessler’s license for 18 months and ordered him to pay more than $2,300 in traffic fines.

Trooper Joshua W. Hudson testified that Kessler was driving in excess of 100 mph in White Stone before he eventually crashed the motorcycle in a field on a dead-end road.

The trooper said Kessler told him he had been down to Windmill Point to see if people searching for Gifford had found anything and that he had been putting up fliers about her all day.

Pamela D’Angelo is a freelance writer who lives in the Northern Neck.

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