ST. JOSEPH — In a recorded phone call from the Berrien County jail in January, Kemia Hassel told her mother that she and a man she’d become involved with planned the murder of her husband, Tyrone Hassel III.
“It was planned in Korea. I got myself mixed up in something. He came here and shot Ty and went back (to Chicago),” Kemia Hassel said.
Her mother asked, “Is anyone coercing you?” She replied, “No mama. No, they’re not. I feel terrible mama. I just wish it never happened.”
Kemia Hassel, 22, is on trial in Berrien County Trial Court in the Dec. 31, 2018, shooting death of her husband. Tyrone Hassel III was an Army sergeant. Kemia also was in the Army, as was Jeremy Cuellar, 24, also charged in the case. His trial is set for next month.
Kemia Hassel is charged with first-degree premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree premeditated murder. The case was to go to the jury this morning and Judge Angela Pasula was expected to instruct the panel on second-degree murder as well.
It is alleged that while on holiday leave from the Army, Cuellar drove to Benton Harbor from Chicago and shot Tyrone Hassel outside Hassel’s family’s house where Tyrone, Kemia and their baby were staying while on leave. Cuellar was staying with his mother in Chicago, according to testimony.
Heather Wyatt, an intelligence analyst with the Michigan State Police, testified Wednesday that based on an analysis of Cuellar’s cell phone, he made four trips from Chicago to Benton Harbor between Dec. 28, 2018, and Jan. 1, 2019. His last trip to Benton Harbor was the night of Dec. 31, the night Tyrone Hassel was gunned down and died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head and neck. Based on Cuellar’s phone, he arrived back in Chicago in the wee hours of Jan. 1.
It is alleged that over four days, Cuellar and Kemia Hassel were communicating through a phone app called Snapchat, trying to find a time when Tyrone Hassel would be alone. At about 10:45 p.m. Dec. 31, Tyrone left a nearby New Year’s Eve gathering to take a plate of food to his wife, who had stayed at the family’s house on Colfax Avenue with their baby. He had called her a short time early to tell her he would bring her some food. She and the baby were the only ones home when, at about 11 p.m., Tyrone Hassel was shot in the driveway outside the house, next to his truck.
“How would Jeremy Cuellar know where Tyrone lives without the help of this defendant?” Berrien Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli said, pointing to Kemia Hassel, in his closing argument to the jury. Pierangeli and Berrien Assistant Prosecutor Trevor Maveal called 23 witnesses in their case, which began Monday. Kemia Hassel’s lawyer, Chris Kessel, did not call any witnesses and cross-examined few of the prosecution witnesses.
“Tragedy doesn’t even being to describe this,” Kessel told the jury in his closing argument. “His (the victim’s) father’s testimony made me emotional, too. But you have to take the sympathy and empathy you feel for the Hassel family and put it in your pocket. This is not about helping a family feel better. It’s about facts.”
Kessel said Kemia Hassel’s videotaped confession was coerced. He said the detective interviewing her at the time, State Police Detective First Lt. Andrew Longuski, forced a false confession.
“He is by far the best interviewer I have ever seen. He walked into a perfect storm,” Kessel told the jury. “She had denied all this stuff for days, weeks, hours and gave her statement only after she was manipulated by an expert.”
In his rebuttal, Pierangeli told the jury, “False confessions don’t do police any good. He’s (Longuski) very good at making sure he doesn’t get false information. And she told her mother ‘We planned it.’ Did she make a false confession to her mother?”
Pierangeli referred to Kemia’s phone call to her mother from the jail, in which her mother asks her, “Did you think you could get away with this?” Kemia answers, “Yeah, I thought we could.”
“She knows she is just as guilty as Jeremy Cuellar, and you know it, too,” the prosecutor told the jury. “Tyrone Hassel gave to his family and his country. Give back to him. Give him the justice he deserves.”
Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa