“I need help. My husband was shot,” the tearful woman said to the 911 operator at about 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2018. “I need help.”
The caller was Kemia Hassel, whose husband, U.S. Army Sergeant Tyrone Hassel III, lay lifeless on the driveway, his body riddled with bullets.
Tyrone Hassel, 23, and his 22-year-old wife, also an active-duty soldier, were on leave for the holidays. They were staying with their nearly 2-year-old son at Hassel’s father’s house in St. Joseph Township, Michigan.
But far from being the grieving widow, Kemia Hassel had orchestrated a plot to murder her husband with the help of her lover, Jeremy Cuellar, 24, also a soldier, who pulled the trigger.
All three—the Hassels and Cuellar—were assigned to 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
The murderous couple was arrested 11 days after the killing, following a tip received by investigators.
The pair had plotted to kill Tyrone Hassel so they could be together and receive the Army’s $400,000 life insurance benefit, prosecutors said at trial.
Kemia Hassel admitted that motive to detectives in a videotaped interview. “I’m just as guilty as he is,” she said, having given “multiple updates” to Cuellar about her husband’s whereabouts so Cuellar could gun him down, WSBT-TV reported.
Kemia Hassel told police Cuellar went to Michigan four times between December 19 and December 31, 2018, and the two attempted to plan the murder each time. Some of the discussion took place on Snapchat, according to court documents cited by local news station ABC57.
Cuellar, in his own words, “choked.” “It took me at least six times,” he said to Tyrone Hassel’s father, Tyrone Hassel Jr., during a 56-minute jail visit whose video was posted on YouTube by ABC57.
Cuellar had agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder if he could speak with Tyrone Hassel Jr.
During the jailhouse conversation, Cuellar repeatedly apologized for his depravity. “I am truly sorry,” said Cuellar, who was sentenced in September 2019 to 65 to 90 years in prison. “I know that ain’t [worth] sh*t.”
Kemia Hassel, who did not take the stand at trial, was found guilty of conspiracy and first-degree murder. She was sentenced in August 2019 to life in prison without parole. “Justice was served, but we still lost,” Berrien County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli said after the jury delivered its verdict, according to mlive.com. “The Army lost a good soldier. Tyrone’s father lost a good son.”
The victim’s mother, Lashanda Jones, had words for her daughter-in-law Kemia Hassel in court.
“I want you to spend every day suffering behind bars for the rest of your life, and I hope every time you close your eyes, my son tap [sic] you on the shoulders and smile [sic],” Jones said, ABC57 reported.
While in jail, Cuellar told the victim’s father he’d been planning to divorce his wife and fell in love with Kemia Hassel after starting a romantic relationship with her while he and the Hassels were stationed in South Korea. Later, he even got attached to the Hassels’ baby, nicknamed “Chunk,” he said.
“I had issues already… I hated. I was all over the place. For some reason, I thought Kemia was my life,” he said.
It was she who manipulated him into believing he needed to kill her husband, Cuellar maintained. He was stunned to hear from Tyrone Hassel Jr. that Kemia Hassel had intimated to investigators that Cuellar didn’t care about her and her son.
“My mind was twisted,” Cuellar said. “I thought I had to do that in order for me to have a family with her, because I wanted kids.”
Tyrone Hassel Jr. told Cuellar that he appreciated his remorse. “You seem like a good guy,” Hassel said. However, he also sarcastically warned Cuellar that he’d meet “a lot of friends” in jail.
“MDOC [Michigan Department of Corrections], it’s tough,” Hassel Jr. said. “I always said I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Tyrone Hassel Jr. also wondered how Cuellar and Kemia Hassel believed they could go on after murdering his son. “After all that, you all thought that you all could live happily ever after?”
In July 2020, Cuellar attempted to withdraw his guilty plea. Cuellar appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and then to the Michigan Supreme Court. The latter denied his request in August 2021.
At the news of Cuellar’s attempts, Tyrone Hassel Jr. reacted with disbelief.
“[Jeremy Cuellar] entering the guilty plea the first time…made me feel like he wanted to clear his conscience. But withdrawing, it is like a slap in the face,” he told ABC57.
Kemia Hassel also has petitioned for new trial, claiming she was a victim of battered woman syndrome. Her late husband’s father “vehemently” denied his son was abusive, ABC57 reported.