Man sentenced after pleading guilty to 2016 murder of Asheville woman

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BUNCOMBE COUNTY, NC (WSPA) – A man was sentenced to 540 to 673 months in prison for the 2016 murder of Christina Kessinger of Asheville.

According to a Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office news release, James Michael Norton, 33, of Madison County, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon for Kessinger’s murder on Feb. 12, 2016.

The case against Norton was built upon a timeline from timestamps on debit/credit card transactions, surveillance video, a 911 call and evidence in Norton’s possession.

Prosecutors believe that in under seven minutes, Norton allegedly surprised and overpowered Kessinger, stabbed her repeatedly in the parking lof of Trader Joe’s grocery store, put her in the backseat of her car, drove her car to a nearby location and hid her body in a dumpster.

Surveillance video showed Kessinger driving her Toyota Matrix just before 3:40 p.m. at First Citizens Bank on Merrimon Avenue.

Kessinger’s debit card was used to make a purchase at Trader Joe’s just before 4:20 p.m.

At 4:20 p.m., video from Staples on Merrimon Avenue shows the Toyota Matrix on Orange Street and showed it moving toward Central Avenue.

According to the release, at around 4:25 p.m., a man placed a 911 call reporting that he found an injured woman in a dumpster in the parking lot.

At around 4:40 p.m., surveillance video showed Norton driving Kessinger’s vehicle to Dollar General, located on Tunnel Road, and no one else was seen in the vehicle.

At the Dollar General, video shows Norton making a purchase with Kessinger’s debit card, and then was seen just before 6 p.m. driving Kessinger’s Matrix to the M&J convenient mart on Swannanoa River Road.

According to the release, Kessinger was identified based on the contents of her cell phone, which was in her pocket. She later was pronounced dead at the Mission Hospital Emergency Room.

Police alerted the public to be on the lookout for Kessinger’s vehicle, and Norton’s mother called Madison County Sheriff’s Office to report that her son parked an unknown vehicle, a Toyota Matrix, at her home she shared with Norton.

Norton was then taken into custody. 

According to the news release, a search warrant executed on the vehicle revealed that there was blood inside the driver’s side door, on the drivers seat, a large amount of blood in the backseat and a flat-head screwdriver, as well as several other items.

“Kessinger’s autopsy showed multiple puncture wounds that penetrated Kissinger’s skull on the right side of her head,” according to the release. “The puncture wounds were consistent with penetration by a flat-head screwdriver.”

“A defense psychiatric expert gave the opinion that on the date of the offense Norton was experiencing a psychotic break with symptoms including visual and auditory hallucinations and thought disorganization.  A defense psychological expert opined that Norton was insane at the time of the offense. Soon after his arrest, Norton was evaluated and deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial. Only after six months of treatment including a regimen of prescription drugs was Norton deemed competent for trial.”

“Christina Kessinger’s death was shocking and a devastating loss to her family and loved ones. I extend my sympathies to the Kessinger family for their loss,” District Attorney Todd Williams said. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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