BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hassel was fatally shot in an ambush on New Year’s Eve while visiting his family in St. Joseph Township. It was a mystery until a murder plot emerged.
23-year-old Tyrone Hassel III had left a family gathering to take a plate of food to his wife, Kemia. “I told him to hurry up back because I didn’t want him out there at midnight,” said his father, Tyrone Hassel II.
Home for the holidays, he told his father how happy he was with the Army, happy with his family, and always happy to know he would soon be having some of his father’s home cooking. He had been looking forward to deep-fried turkey, macaroni and cheese, and other homemade food.
But shortly after leaving the house, he was gunned down.
At approximately 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2018, Kemia Hassel called 9-1-1 to report her husband, Tyrone, had been shot in the driveway. He was lying on the ground, slumped against his pickup truck.
The 9-1-1- Call
“I need help. My husband… my husband was shot. I need help.”
Shots fired. Shots fired. Request EMT immediately.
There was a massive response by law enforcement from multiple agencies responding to that call, along with EMS. Paramedics struggled to stabilize him. His wife was crying hysterically and hugging him, covered in blood. Kemia was very upset.
Police Officers and Medics observed the victim lying on the ground. It appeared that he had been shot in the head due to the fact there was a large amount of blood and what appeared to be gray matter spattered on the ground and on the victim’s truck, where he had been lying near the driver’s side door.
When officers arrived, his wife was there kneeling next to him. It was a chaotic scene. Officers were attempting to secure the area. An officer interviewed Kemia to obtain more details.
Police Officer: “Did you see anybody around, ma’am?”
Kemia: “No,” she said, sobbing.
“Do you have any idea what happened here?”
Kemia: “No, he just bought us something to eat. So we were sitting on the couch eating, and then I just heard gunshots. And I ran to put my son in the room, and I came outside, and he was laying on the car.”
“How many gunshots did you hear?”
“I don’t know. I just heard a lot.”
“Do you have any idea how this happened?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I mean, this is serious, okay? I don’t know what his condition is, but it does not look good. Okay? So, if you know something…”
“I don’t think he was beefing with anybody.”
“…now’s the time.”
An officer observed a male subject walking up the driveway very rapidly. He was advised that he could not proceed any further. Tyrone’s father, Hassel II, had arrived on the scene. Police escorted him to the front yard, away from the immediate location.
Police: “Do you know who it is?”
Mr. Hassel: “He’s my son. It’s Tyrone Hassel III.”
Mr. Hassel told the police that there was a small child inside the residence, and he wanted to retrieve the child. The Officer entered the house and saw a small child standing next to the door looking directly outside. The child was retrieved, taken outside, and returned to Mr. Hassel.
Tyrone was loaded onto a stretcher and transported to Spectrum Lakeland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly afterward. He suffered from multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head, an autopsy revealed.
Hassel II: “Seeing what I saw, I seen my son on the gurney. I can see the hole in the front and the back of his head. I was just hoping that some way, somehow they would save his life. But I knew he was dead because I was looking in his eyes, and it was no motion.”
Kemia was questioned at the scene immediately after her husband was loaded into the ambulance en route to the Lakeland Emergency Room.
Kemia stated that Tyrone had been at a New Year’s Eve Party at Fredo’s residence in Benton Harbor. Tyrone had come to the house to bring her a plate of food from the party. She said Tyrone came inside, set the plate of food down, and said that he was going to return to the party. Shortly after Tyrone set the plate down, he exited the house through the side door, where his truck was parked in the driveway. She said she heard multiple gunshots.
When Kemia was asked if she knew of any problems Tyrone had going on, she said that she and Tyrone were visiting his family and were on leave from active duty military service. To her knowledge, Tyrone did not have problems with anyone in Benton Harbor. She said he had been making extra money cutting hair during their stay, but to her knowledge, there were no problems or no one that would be upset with him.
At first, the police were trying to contain the scene, preserve all the evidence, and try to figure out what was going on. They initially thought it could have been a robbery.
An Evidence Tech Team responded with equipment and additional personnel to process the crime scene and collect evidence. Photographs were also taken. Shell casings and other evidential items were collected.
The victim’s vehicle was a Dodge Ram pickup truck. Upon obtaining a search warrant, his vehicle was searched. It was towed to the Sheriff’s Department for further processing.
Hassel II: “I thought that somebody may have tried to take his truck. He had a nice truck. He wore nice jewelry. People knew he was in the military, and Benton Harbor is kind of a very low-income city. And I thought somebody was just trying to get an easy come-up… I don’t know if somebody followed him.”
But after investigating the scene, that didn’t seem to be the case because Sergeant Hassel still had his wallet with him and money. His phone was with him. Keys to his truck were right there. So, nothing appeared to have been stolen.
Police: “I’m not saying anything by saying this, but I have to ask, okay? Were there drugs on him? Like, was he doing a drug deal?”
Kemia: “No, nothing that he’s told me.”
Hassel II: “No, my son don’t have no file or anything. He don’t have a record. He told me a long time ago, ‘Daddy, if I go to jail, somebody’s framing me.’ My son walked a straight line his entire life.”
“I don’t know nobody who hates my son; he had no enemies.”
The young Hassel was the pride of his family, friends, and the community around him. He shot up the ranks and made sergeant at an incredibly young age.
It was a cruel ending to a young man’s life who had worked so hard to make it. He had stayed out of trouble because he stayed busy with sports activities.
Family and friends described him as a guy that makes you a better person. He had received an academic scholarship to go to Grand Valley State University. While at Grand Valley, he decided he wanted to serve the country, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
His father said, “He was doing what he needed to do to better his life.”
While in the Army, he had fallen in love with another soldier, Kemia.
Hassel II: “I thought she was great. I mean, I loved her like a daughter.”
The young couple was deployed to Korea, serving in separate units and living in different barracks, standard policy for the U.S. Army. It seemed a happy marriage that got even better with the arrival of their son.
Tyrone loved his family. He loved Kemia and treated her like a queen. All he wanted to do was serve in the Army and care for his family the best he could.
The Police Investigation
The Township Police Department was assisted at the scene by the Michigan State Police, Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, St. Joseph Department of Public Safety, and Berrien County Homicide Task Force.
While investigating the crime scene, taking photos, and marking evidence, the First Responders advised the team that Tyrone Hassel III had sustained two gunshot wounds to the head, one to the neck, and one to the shoulder. He had been pronounced deceased at Lakeland Medical Center.
The family was desperate to find out what really happened.
The murder investigation was about to reveal that not everything was happy in Tyrone Hassel III’s life.
The bullet casings told a story. The close shots appeared to be personal. Police: “There’s one, two… three…then number four. Whoever shot him was either lying in wait or walked up on him ‘cause they shot him right up next to his truck right outside the door. It was a point-blank shot. Somebody knows something.”
As detectives returned to the scene the next day looking for more clues, there was still no answer as to why Tyrone Hassel III was murdered.
The next thing police looked into was a possible mistaken identity. Maybe they thought the victim was somebody else when the shooting took place. Police soon learn from his friends and family that the sergeant’s younger half-brother had been running with a bad crowd. Perhaps he was the target, but Tyrone just happened to step out at the wrong damn time, said one officer. But that was a dead end. He had no involvement, and there was no connection.
A Break in the Case
There were a lot of tips coming in, and the police followed up on every single lead. But nothing panned out.
A neighbor had called the Neighborhood Watch President and told him about a suspicious vehicle that was parked across the street from his house last night, and shortly after that, there were shots fired and police sirens.
Officers interviewed the neighbor and his wife. Between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m., a dark-colored sedan parked in the driveway across the street. He said it backed in and parked in the middle of the driveway towards the road. He believed the vehicle was newer because it had LED front headlights. After about ten minutes, the car pulled out of the driveway and took off at a high speed. Approximately ten minutes later, it arrived back, parking in the same spot. An unknown male exited the vehicle from the driver’s side and walked down Gerald towards Delaware, turning east onto Delaware. The neighbor said he went to bed around 10:45, and shortly after that, there was what he described as six loud gunshots, and then he heard sirens and saw lights in the back of the house. He got up and looked out the window, but the vehicle was not in the driveway anymore. He told police that the same vehicle had been parked in the same spot three or four nights ago also. He put two and two together and assumed it was the same man he had seen earlier.
After further investigations, the mistaken identity theory was dismissed.
Investigation Shifts to Fort Stewart, Georgia
Two army specialists came forward and gave statements about what took place. One of them said that Tyrone Hassel had discovered that Kemia was indeed having an affair with another soldier.
The other soldier having an affair was identified as Specialist Jeremy Cuellar, known as Cuey.
Another soldier revealed he had sold Cuellar a Glock pistol just two weeks before the murder.
It was more than enough for Army Investigators at Fort Stewart to place Jeremy Cuellar under arrest. On January 12, 2019, after being advised of his rights, he cut off any further questioning and wanted a lawyer.
However, Jeremy had already talked to another soldier, saying, “I did what I had to do. I went up there, and I took care of it.” He talked about the number of shots he fired, what gun he had, and how it came about in the driveway of Sergeant Hassel’s family.
When asked what his plans were, Cuellar said the money was a bonus, meaning the life insurance benefits. When asked why Kemia and Tyrone could not just get divorced, Cuellar said that was not an option. Cuellar explained that doing it during block time would be easier, as would the getaway. When asked if that was what Kemia wanted, Cuellar said that it was “mutual” and had to be done.
Further Questioning of Kemia Hassel—The Wife
Kemia had already been at the police station days earlier in tears, offering to help find her husband’s killer. But she made no mention of the affair or her lover, Jeremy. Did she know what he had done?
The police contacted Tyrone’s father and said, “We need to talk to you. Can you bring Kemia down with you to the station?”
Hassel II: “So when I walked up to her, I said, ‘Hey, we got to go to the sheriff’s department.’ And she was like, “Okay, come on.”
“And when we walked in, he was like, ‘Kemia, you go right here. And Mr. Hassel, you have a seat right here.’
And they took her behind a secured door, and came right back to me and he said, ‘Mr. Hassel, go home. It’s gonna be a long night.’ And I kind of, like, slowly walked away like, What the heck just happened?”
Kemia was indeed in for a long night. She was about to be questioned by State Police Detective First Lieutenant Andrew Longuski.
They didn’t know if they had a boyfriend that was obsessed with her a little bit and acted on his own because Jeremy had said that he had committed the homicide or if she was actually involved.
Kemia’s Interview at the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department
On January 11, 2019, Kemia was requested to appear with her phone at the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department. At approximately 8:48 p.m., a lieutenant spoke to Kemia and advised her of her Miranda rights. Sergeant Lanier, a St. Joseph Township Police Officer who was also present, testified that she seemed to understand those rights and did not ask any questions regarding her rights. Kemia denied any involvement in her husband’s death in this initial interview, which lasted about 50 minutes.
Kemia stated that she and Tyrone had been married for two years and it would have been three years on May 17. She said they came to spend time with Tyrone’s family.
When she was told about Tyrone going to a party she said she wasn’t aware of that. She said he did go to the skating rink.
Kemia was asked what she and Tyrone did on New Year’s Eve during the day. She said Tyrone went over to Fredo’s house to cut hair. She got her hair braided around 12:00 p.m. and then stayed at home with her child.
Kemia said that Tyrone came home between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m., then he went to Walmart. She said he then went to a relative’s house where his family was having a party.
Kemia was asked if Tyrone had been drinking that evening. She said that he was drinking a little bit.
She was asked how she felt about Tyrone going out and leaving her at home. She said that she didn’t mind him going out. She did not have an issue with that. She said that she wasn’t a person that really goes out much. She said she stayed home because of the baby. She wasn’t sure how the baby was going to act, being that she was gone so long last year. She said she kind of wanted to go but was okay with staying at home. She knew that Tyrone’s family had a big party on New Year’s Eve.
Kemia was asked if there was any physical violence and what happened when they got upset with each other. She said that they would get upset and yell; but there was no physical violence between them.
Kemia stated that there were no issues with Tyrone and anyone in his unit back in Georgia. She was asked if she knew anything about what happened to Tyrone. She stated that she did not. She said she was home along and there were no cars in the driveway. She thought maybe someone was attempting to break in and he interrupted it; but she stated she did not know who would do this. She did not know of him having issues with anyone.
Kemia was asked if it would be okay to look through her phone or download her phone. She agreed, signed a consent form, and gave the password to the phone. D/Sgt. Performed a forensic examination of the phone. Kemia was allowed to go through Tyrone’s phone to get important information that she needed.
According to Kemia, the police told her she had to take a polygraph examination in Lansing in order to clear her name.
Michigan State Police Headquarters
It was close to midnight when Kemia arrived at the Michigan State Police headquarters in Lansing. Kemia met with Longuski, who advised her that she was free to leave at any time, and he again read defendant her Miranda rights; both he and Kemia signed the accompanying advice-of-rights form. Longuski testified at trial that Kemia acknowledged that she understood each right as it was read to her, and she did not ask any questions or appear confused in any way.
Kemia didn’t show much emotion in interviews after the murder of her husband. A Michigan State Police Captain said he could tell from her body language something was up. He also knew she had money to gain from the murder. He said, “Kemia was one of the coldest he’s ever interviewed.”
During the initial 90-minute interview with Longuski, Kemia continued to deny any involvement in her husband’s death. She then took a polygraph test. Afterward, Longuski took a break. At approximately 1:30 a.m., Kemia was interviewed again by Longuski for about an hour and fifteen minutes. It was during this interview that Kemia made incriminating statements to Longuski.
Although Kemia was only 22 years old and had no previous experience with the police, she was a Sergeant in the Army, had been deployed overseas for several months, and was married and a mother. There was no evidence to suggest that her age or intelligence prevented her from understanding her rights or from knowingly and intelligently waiving those rights, which she did on two occasions.
The detectives questioned Kemia about the affair with Jeremy and how it began.
She was very well-spoken and seemed to be very believable. She was sad that her husband was gone. She denied knowing anything about the murder. She had agreed to take a polygraph test to prove that she wasn’t involved.
Hassell II said, “This is exhausting. I got to get up in a few hours to go bury my son and nobody’s telling me anything and his wife is over at the sheriff’s department. I’m concerned about why they have her over there, but I’m still not convinced that she had anything to do with it… I was worried.”
The lie detector showed Kemia Hassel was deceptive, was not telling the truth about her role in the murder of her husband.
After confronting her, Detective Longuski said she kind of changed her story 180 degrees. He spoke to her with words of sympathy and understanding.
“You’re not the one pulling the trigger. You need to get out in front of this for your son because you have a future.”
She began to disclose not only her conspiracy to do this but also she was kind of a major player as far as making it happen that night.
Jeremy had come to Benton Harbor several nights before from Chicago. He staked out Tyrone at a local nightclub but there were too many people around to pull it off.
On New Year’s Eve, Kemia was sending Jeremy text and Snapchat messages about her husband’s whereabouts.
Kemia: “And then he was out there; he was watching the house the whole time. I told him that he was bringing us back something to eat.”
And that’s when it happened. Kemia that night played the role of the distraught grieving wife.
Detective: “Would you say this was a 50-50 thing you guys were in on this?”
Kemia: “Yeah, because I knew all about it. And I, like I said, I probably could have stopped it. But the reason that I didn’t is because I felt like he would, you know, be mad at me or…”
Detectives believed that there was another important reason—Sergeant Hassel’s military life insurance policy that would have paid her $400,000.
Kemia said, “The money is part of it, yes. But the main reason being is because I just felt like if I would have called it off, like, Jeremy probably would have, like, been upset at the fact that I called it off and I didn’t want him, like, mad at me.”
Detective: “Okay, you understand though that calling it off would’ve saved your husband’s life. You could have divorced him. Was Ty a bad man?
Kemia: “Not bad enough for this. And honestly, that’s just, like, my remorse, that’s really how I feel.”
Detective: “…but you put your needs and your wants above somebody’s life.”
The night of the murder and for more than a week afterward, Kemia Hassel had denied knowing anything about what happened.
Detective: “But Jeremy was gonna go, and you called him back… And I get why you called him back. Knowing now… what do you think should happen to you right now?
Kemia: “I don’t know. Because, myself, I feel just as guilty as him.”
Hassel II: He said, “We solved your son’s case.” I was like, “Who was it?”
He said, “It was Kemia.”
Hassel II: “And my family just went into an outrage. And I was still…I think I was still in denial. I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t believe it. It was like, no way, no way possible. But then when they told me that it was her lover that did it, I was, like, completely blown away.
I lived with this person for 11 days after my son was killed. My entire family comforted this person. We took her in like one of our own. She was the person, you know, that was behind my son’s murder. Angry wasn’t even the word.”
Kemia Nekenah Hassel was arrested and lodged in the Berrien County Jail on charges of open murder and conspiracy to commit murder on January 12, 2019.
Autopsy / Examination Findings
- FIVE gunshot wounds
- One perforating gunshot wound on the left side of the frontal scalp.
- One perforating gunshot wound on the left side of the forehead.
- One perforating gunshot would on the right side of the face.
- One graze gunshot wound on the base of the left side of the neck.
- One penetrating gunshot wound on the right shoulder.
- Abrasion of the skin
- Status post cardiopulmonary resuscitation
- TOXICOLOGY: Negative. Toxicology studies performed on the decedent’s iliac blood and urine were negative.
Michigan v. Kemia Hassel
Kemia was charged with plotting the murder of her husband with her lover.
Kaitlin Locke, Kemia Hassel’s lawyer, said her client shouldn’t be charged with first-degree murder because she didn’t pull the trigger.
But Judge Schrock said there was enough evidence to prove she aided and abetted the murder.
Trial Day 1
Tyrone’s father would be the first witness against Kemia when she went on trial for murder.
Prosecutors decided to put Kemia on trial first. But there was concern about the optics. She was a very sympathetic defendant in her appearances. She looked incredibly young. She dressed for court, did her hair in a way that made her look like a teenager.
Prosecutor: “You’ll find she had murder on her mind and betrayal in her heart. Kemia Hassel wasn’t happy with her life and with her husband. And she devised a plan with her lover, Jeremy Cuellar, to have him murdered. And in the end, you’ll see from the evidence that it was all about her and what she wanted. The evidence is never gonna put the gun in her hand. It was Jeremy Cuellar that pulled that trigger, but it was at her direction. That gun was never in her hand, but her fingerprints are all over this murder.”
Kemia’s lawyer sought to portray his client as a victim too of a crazed lover and unfair police tactics in gaining her confession.
“There is no question that Sergeant Hassel’s death is not just sad but is a tragedy. Convicting someone who’s not responsible of murder, that is a tragedy too.”
But it was Kemia Hassel’s videotaped confession to Detective Longuski that was the biggest challenge for her defense lawyer after first trying to keep it from the jury. It was admissible evidence.
So, her defense lawyer told the jury that the detective manipulated her and wore her down to get a false confession in the middle of the night.
The Prosecutor took the jury back to the crime scene that New Year’s Eve as seen through the eyes of its first witness.
Hassell II hadn’t seen his daughter-in-law since the day she was arrested. He said, “She never made eye contact with me, never, not once actually looked at me in the eye. So, I was just thinking I don’t know; she was heartless.”
Hassell II testied: “When I arrived, it was just… the paramedics was already there and when they lifted him up, I saw my son, the back of his head explodes out and his eyes were open.” [Sniffles and Wipes His Eyes]
“I looked at him to see where all he was shot at, and I saw a hole right here…”
Trial Day 2
Detective Longuski testified: “She told me that she did plan it with Jeremy and that they had tried on several occasions to make it happen.”
The 45-minute video-taped confession was played for the jury. They watched and listened as she gave all the details. They observed Kemia initialing the key statement.
Detective Longuski: The first question I asked was: Did you plan with Jeremy to Kill Tyrone? Her statement was “Yes.”
A phone call Kemia made to her mother right after she was arrested was the prosecution’s last piece of evidence.
Kemia’s Mother: “What’s going on Kemia?”
Kemia: “I’m in the jail.”
“Why are you in jail?”
“Because I… I knew what was going on.”
“What you… What you mean you knew what was going on?”
“I knew what was going on with Tyrone.”
“I knew what was happening.”
“Kemia, are you serious? You gotta be kidding.”
“I’m serious mom. I just knew that you would be disappointed. I just felt like…”
“Kemia…girl, you’re 22 years old… You was living a double life and you had your husband killed? The father of your child? And you talking about I’d be disappointed? No, I’m disappointed in this. Kemia, is somebody coercing you to say this stuff? Because this **** sounds like a TV show, a dream.”
“No, they’re not mommy.”
“I can’t hear you.”
“No, they’re not.”
“But, did y’all think y’all could get away with that?”
“We thought that we could.”
The prosecution rested their case. The defense had to decide whether Kemia would testify.
Trial Day 3
The Hassel Family was at the courthouse waiting to hear if Kemia would take the stand and try to explain herself.
Hassel II: “First thing I would want to know is why. I didn’t see any anger within their marriage. I didn’t even see any problems. I would just want to know why. After everything that we’ve been through altogether, why would you do that to my family?”
The Judge asked Kemia, “Do you wish to testify today or do you wish to remain silent?”
Kemia replied, “I wish to remain silent.”
Prosecutor: “Aiding and abetting, she is just as responsible as Jeremy Cuellar. She needs to be held accountable same as Jeremy Cuellar ‘cause she is just as responsible. She assisted in this crime. She gave aid. She gave counsel. She procured it. She abetted to encourage it. All the evidence shows that. And she conspired with him to do it.”
Prosecutor played her confession tape: “Myself, I feel just as guilty as him.”
Prosecutor: “What else shows that this was planned out ahead of time? Her own statements to her mother.”
Mother: “Kemia, what… when did all this come together?”
Kemia: “It was planned in Korea.”
The Prosecutor closed with: “Hold her accountable; agree with her that she is just as guilty as Jeremy Cuellar.”
Defense Attorney Chris Kessel tried to undercut the power of the interrogation with Detective Longuski.
Kessel: “He is by far the best that I’ve ever seen. No question about it. He is as skilled an interviewer as I have ever seen. And that is the whole case, ladies and gentlemen. The whole issue is, do you believe that Kemia Hassel made those statements because she had been manipulated by a pro. She had been denying all of this stuff for days, weeks, hours. And it was only after Detective Longuski went to work that she changed her story. The statement that she made implicating herself was the result of a long stay in police custody followed by repeated denials followed by manipulation. Again, Detective Longuski’s agreed upon word. And without those statements the prosecution has no case against Kemia Hassel. And I hope you return a fair and just verdict in this case.”
The Jurors Verdict
The jury returned with its verdict the next morning.
Count One: Guilty of First-Degree Pre-Meditated Murder as Aider or Abetter.
Count Two: Guilty of Conspiracy to Commit First-Degree Pre-Meditated Murder.
Kemia Hassel was very stoic, emotionless, really no reaction from her. Even as she realized what was ahead. Life without parole was the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.
After the jury’s verdict was delivered, the victim’s father, Tyrone Hassel II, said hearing recordings of Kemia Hassel’s confessions during the trial was difficult. He did not hear any sympathy in her voice, he said.
“She’s the devil,” Hassel II said.
The victim’s father described the mixed emotions surrounding the case. Prior to the murder, he believed his son and daughter-in-law had a good marriage and loved her as his own, he said. “To see someone you first cared for hurt you so bad,” he said.
His son should be remembered by the community as a hero, Hassel II said.
“You want your kid to be better than you, and he accomplished that,” he said.
Mr. Hassell said, “it was incredibly overwhelming to hear details of the murder plot that allegedly led to the death of his son.” He said, “It’s hard to take it in without crying.”
The elder Hassel said he tried to comfort Kemia after her husband’s death, and that he had no idea that she might’ve played a role in the incident. Kamia Hassel stayed for 12 days at his home until she was arrested, he said. “I tried to make sure she ate,” he said. “Make sure she gets enough sleep.”
In sworn testimony, Township Police Officer Mike Lanier alleged that Kemia told police in a signed statement that she spent months meticulously planning her husband’s assassination because he was becoming a burden on her romantic fling with Cuellar. The couple shared a 1-year-old son together. Kemia was unhappy in her marriage one year in but didn’t want to divorce Tyrone as she’d no longer be an eligible beneficiary to his life insurance policy.
The pair of lovers plotted for several months to solve their problem permanently. While deployed in South Korea, they allegedly discussed ways in which to remove Tyrone from the picture forever.
Prosecutors contended during trial that Kemia Hassel told police she spent months planning her husband’s death so she could continue a romantic relationship with 24-year-old Jeremy Cuellar. All three were soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
A Fellow Soldier Charged with the Murder of Tyrone Hassel
Kemia and Cuellar allegedly corresponded for months plotting the attack on Snapchat while they were stationed in South Korea. Investigators say the pair used the social media app to share ideas for the murder under the belief it would make their involvement difficult to trace. Cuellar was held on a $2.5 million bond.
Jeremy Cuellar’s Plea Deal
Testimony included his fellow soldiers about him buying a gun just before the murder, how his phone tracked his travels on the interstate to Benton Harbor, and that a new piece of police equipment actually spotted his car’s license plate. It was picked up the night of the murder just a couple hours before the murder, which put him in the area around the time of the murder, which was very important. Plus, a judge ruled that Kemia’s own statements about her one-time lover could be used against him. His lawyer asked for a plea deal.
Prosecutors believed that he deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison. They came to a term of 65 years. Jeremy agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder. He would be eligible for parole at 90 years old.
After Cuellar pled guilty, he was walking out of the courtroom. He looked back to Tyrone’s father and said some words about, “I need to talk to you.”
A few days later, Mr. Hassel agreed to meet with the man who executed his son.
Taped Recording From Jail
Cuellar: “How you doing, sir?”
Mr. Hassel: “I’m all right, you know, under the circumstances. If you got something that you want to say, I’m… that’s what I came here to listen to.”
Cuellar: “We do have an hour. I might as well just tell you how everything went. I mean, are you okay? Are you comfortable with that?”
“I’m okay with it.”
Mr. Hassel said he told him way more than he wanted to hear. He blamed it all on Kemia and her plan to get her husband’s $400,000 in life insurance money.
Cueller: “Man, she wanted me to do it, man. Like, and I ain’t gonna lie. I wanted her, you know what I’m saying…but, man, she knew what she was doing. She wanted the money. So I don’t know what… she… that’s crazy. Honestly, I was blind, like, I was blinded, you know, I thought that was love…”
And what about Kemia’s tears when she saw her husband shot dead in the driveway?
Mr. Hassel: “I was just wondering if she talked to you about that afterwards?”
Cuellar: “I mean, yeah, she did. Matter of fact, she did. She was like, ‘Yeah, like, you know, he died in my arms.’ And she was saying she was sad about it. And I’m like, then why did you have me do it then? But she was, like, you know, it’s cool, like, she knew what she was doing. She’s a good actor, man. She knew what she was doing… and I was too stupid to see it, you know what I’m saying, honestly.”
Mr. Hassel struggled to hold his emotions.
Cuellar: “I can tell by the way you look, man, you want me to burn in hell, sir, and I understand that… And I really hope you can forgive me. I know it’s gonna take forever or you might not. But, you know, I really hope you can.”
Mr. Hassel: “True enough you killed my son, but I don’t think… I know I’m looking at somebody that had a twisted mind at one point, you know, you seem like a good cat. And I hate this situation had to happen especially I hate that it had to happen to my son. I’m never gonna… the only thing I can do is visit him in the grave.
Cuellar, 25, admitted to shooting and killing Army Sergeant Tyrone Hassel III on New Year’s Eve 2018.
Mr. Hassel said he asked Cuellar how they thought they could trust one another after the New Year’s Eve murder.
“He said, ‘I thought about that, but I really didn’t think about it, you know, as much. He was just thinking about the family, ‘and the five kids’ she promised me.”
In court documents, Cuellar traveled to Benton Harbor four times to try and kill the victim. But in their conversation, Mr. Hassel said Cuellar admitted to trying six times and explained how he said Kemia’s rejection that night led him to carry out the murder.
“He asked to see her, and she didn’t want to see him. And he told me he got angry because he hadn’t seen his family in a year, and she got him out here trying to do this and she doesn’t want to see him. He said he was angry, he said, ‘That’s why it was so many shots,'” Mr. Hassel recalled.
Mr. Hassel said he does not forgive Jeremy Cuellar, but he believes there is a lesson here, a chance to help other young men who are apparently blinded by their emotions.
Jeremy Cuellar’s Appeal
Cuellar later appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and was denied. He then appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which was also denied. The Michigan Supreme Court has denied the latest appeal by Jeremy Cuellar to withdraw his guilty plea in the death of U.S. Army Sergeant Tyrone Hassel III. Cuellar pleaded guilty to second-degree murder but tried to withdraw that plea.
Kemia Hassel’s Appeal
Court of Appeals: People of the State of Michigan v. Kemia Nekenah Hassel No. 350654 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2022)
Defendant’s convictions arise from the shooting death of her husband, Tyrone Hassel III, on December 31, 2018. Defendant and Hassel were spending their holiday leave from the Army at Hassel’s family home in Benton Harbor. The prosecution presented evidence that Jeremy Cuellar, who was also in the Army, shot and killed Hassel outside the family home. Defendant, Hassel and Cuellar were all stationed together in Korea.
After the police confronted defendant with information about Cuellar’s suspected involvement and their knowledge that defendant and Cuellar were involved in a relationship, defendant gave a statement in which she admitted being involved in a sexual relationship with Cuellar and plotting with Cuellar to kill Hassel and collect life insurance benefits of $400,000.
In addition, while defendant was in jail, she spoke to her mother on a call that was recorded. Defendant spoke about Cuellar, told her mother that she “got myself mixed up in something,” and said that she and Cuellar planned it in Korea so that they could be together. Defendant’s mother asked defendant if someone was making her tell this story and defendant denied it.
After defendant filed a claim of appeal, we granted her motion to remand for a Ginther hearing. On remand, she moved for a new trial, arguing that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress her inculpatory statement to the police, and for failing to pursue a defense based on battered partner syndrome. After conducting a Ginther hearing, at which both defendant and trial counsel testified, the trial court denied defendant’s motion.
On appeal, defendant renewed her two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. First, she argues that trial counsel was ineffective by failing to challenge the admissibility of her inculpatory police statements in a pretrial motion to suppress, and instead electing to argue before the jury at trial that the police interrogation was coercive, and her resulting statements were inaccurate and unreliable. Second, she argued that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present evidence of Hassel’s abuse of her during the marriage and failing to consult an expert to determine the merits of a self-defense claim based on battered partner syndrome.
There was no evidence that defendant was physically abused or threatened with abuse. Defendant testified that she was tired because of the timing of the interview and because she had not been sleeping since Hassel had been killed. But she did not inform the police that she was tired, and Longuski testified that defendant did not appear tired or overly exhausted. And the timing of the interview was not so late as to outweigh the other factors and render defendant’s statements involuntary.
Defendant next argued that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the violent nature of her marriage to Hassel, which she contends deprived her of a battered partner defense.
In most cases, the battered woman syndrome is offered by the defendant in a case of homicide in which the defendant is claiming self-defense.
At the Ginther hearing, defendant testified that after she became pregnant with their son, Hassel became extremely physical, emotionally, verbally, and financially abusive. She described one incident in which she awoke to find Hassel lying on top of her with his hands around her neck choking her. She described other incidents in which Hassel choked her, punched her, grabbed her by the arms hard enough to leave bruises, and once hit her in the head with a bottle. She also claimed that, after the birth of their child, Hassel emotionally abused her by telling her that she did not look good, no one would love her, and that she could not be with anyone else because she did not look the way she used to look. She further testified that she always had to ask for Hassel’s permission to spend any money, including her own paycheck.
Conversely, trial counsel testified that defendant told him that there had been some domestic violence in her relationship with Hassel, but not nearly to the extent that she described at the Ginther hearing. Counsel stated that he consulted another attorney about the potential for a battered partner defense in defendant’s case, but determined that the domestic violence described by defendant would not support such a defense.
The trial court noted that defendant’s description of Hassel’s severe abuse at the Ginther hearing conflicted with her statements to Longuski in which she agreed that Hassel was “a decent dude” and a better man than Cuellar, and that defendant told another detective that her relationship with Hassel “was good” and that they “argued like normal couples,” but there were “no physical altercations.”
In light of the admissibility of defendant’s statement to Longuski and her conversation with her mother that she and Cuellar planned to kill Hassel while they were in Korea, which was at least four months before December 31, 2018, trial counsel’s rejection of a strategy based on self-defense as a result of battered partner syndrome was not objectively unreasonable.
Further, even if defendant’s testimony at the Ginther hearing is credited, it did not support a claim of self-defense based on battered partner syndrome. Such a claim would require evidence that defendant participated in Hassel’s shooting death but acted in self-defense because of repeated and ongoing abuse.
Tyrone Hassel III: August 23, 1995—December 31, 2018
He received his formative education at Benton Harbor Area Schools. He graduated with honors in 2013. He was a member of the Tigers marching band, Junior ROTC, and The Kappa League. He continued his education at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI. where he studied Mechanical Engineering.
In 2015 Tyrone enlisted in the United States Army where he received multiple honors. He was awarded the Army Achievement Medal, The German Army Proficiency Badge and completed a nine-month rotation in South Korea. His most recent accomplishment was on October 31, 2017, when he was promoted to Sergeant Hassel.
Tyrone Hassel III served our country honorably but died a horrific death while taking a holiday break.
Kemia Hassel gave custody of their child to her mother. The Hassel Family did get shared custody.
How Investigators Solved the Murder Mystery of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hassel III
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