ST. JOSEPH — LaShanda Jones told Kemia Hassel on Thursday that she’s glad Michigan has no death penalty.
“That would be too easy for you,” said Jones, whose son was shot and killed last New Year’s Eve. “You’re a cold-blooded murderer. Because of you, my life has changed tremendously. I will never be the same.”
Jones delivered her victim impact statement in Berrien County Trial Court at a sentencing hearing for Hassel before Judge Angela Pasula handed down the mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole. Hassel, 22, was found guilty by a jury July 18 of first-degree, premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree, premeditated murder in the shooting death of her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III, 22.
Jones told Kemia, “Everybody goes through things in their marriage. My son never deserved what you did to him.”
Tyrone and Kemia Hassel were serving in the U.S. Army when Kemia became romantically involved with Jeremy Cuellar, another serviceman. While deployed to South Korea, Cuellar and Kemia planned the murder of Tyrone, which they carried out Dec. 31, 2018, outside his father’s house in St. Joseph Township. Cuellar shot Tyrone several times in the head after Kemia alerted him that Tyrone was there. Tyrone and Kemia, along with their 2-year-old son, Tyrone Hassel IV, had been staying with Tyrone’s father, Tyrone Hassel Jr., while on leave for the holidays.
“This was the ultimate betrayal. I trusted you. I loved you,” Tyrone Hassel Jr. told Kemia during her sentencing hearing.
“Before my son proposed to you, I told him never marry anybody for money. Marry because of love. He loved you. It’s amazing that Ty was something to everybody else, but to you he was expendable. To you he was a $400,000 check,” Hassel Jr. said.
Throughout Kemia Hassel’s trial in July, the jury heard testimony of how Cuellar and Kemia planned to collect Hassel’s insurance money from the Army and be together once he was dead. Kemia’s lawyer, Chris Kessel, told Judge Pasula, “Mrs. Hassel allowed herself to be drawn into something she shouldn’t have. She understands more than anyone in this room how this has changed her life forever and her son’s life.”
Kemia Hassel sat stoically in the courtroom packed with her husband’s relatives and friends, showing no reaction to the victim impact statements and saying “no” when asked if she wished to address the court prior to being sentenced.
Pasula said the case was about greed, selfishness and inhumanity.
“It’s incomprehensible that you would even think of murdering your husband so you could be with another person,” the judge said. Reading from a trial transcript, Pasula told Kemia Hassel, “You said ‘We planned it, mama. In Korea.’ Your mother asked did you think you could get away with that?’ and you said, ‘We thought we could.’ Then you remained in your father-in-law’s home shedding disingenuous tears, waiting for payment from the U.S. Army.”
Berrien Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant Prosecutor Trevor Maveal, said there is nothing he can say to relieve the Hassel family’s pain.
“I learned a lot about Sgt. Hassel. He was a leader, and we have such a lack of leaders. His talent and character, we need (people like) him. You heard (another Army sergeant who testified at trial) say Sgt. Hassel made him a better person. What more could you say about a person?” Pierangeli said. “Then we have the selfishness and greed of the defendant. Such a difference between the giving nature of Sgt. Hassel and the taking nature of the defendant. And now Tyrone IV doesn’t have a dad, and won’t have a mother.”
Tyrone Hassel Jr. said his grandson has been with Kemia’s mother in Georgia since Kemia’s arrest. He said he plans to pursue custody of the little boy.
Jeremy Cuellar, who was to have gone on trial following Kemia Hassel’s trial, pleaded guilty in late July to second-degree murder. A plea deal between prosecutors and Cuellar’s lawyer, Edwin Johnson, calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of 65 years in prison. For Cuellar, who is 25, that means virtually a life sentence since he would be at least 90 if ever released on parole.
His sentencing is set for Sept. 23 before Pasula, who accepted his guilty plea last month.
Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa