Defense alleges false confession in Berrien County solider killing case

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WNDU) - A videotaped confession will be a key point of contention in the murder trial of 22-year-old Kemia Hassel.

She is the wife of Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III, who was shot and killed while home for the holidays in Berrien County on New Year’s Eve.

Kemia Hassel was a soldier, as well, who was allegedly having an affair with another soldier, Jeremy Cuellar. It is alleged that in February of 2018, while stationed in Korea, the pair plotted to kill her husband and collect $400,000 worth of life insurance.

“Kemia Hassel was interrogated first in Berrien County, they took her from Berrien County to Lansing. She was interviewed, a part you're not going to hear, an hour, hour and a half before this statement was made, denying the entire time that she had anything to do with this,” defense attorney Chris Kessel told the jury Monday.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli pointed to a recorded phone call Kemia Hassel had with her mother.

“Her mom asked her, 'Is somebody coercing you to say this? Is somebody making you say this, because this is like a dream, like a TV show. Is somebody coercing you?' Her response was, ‘No, they’re not,’” Pierangeli said.

Pierangeli told jurors, “The evidence won’t put the gun in her hand,” but “her fingerprints are all over this murder.”

Pierangeli said the couple decided that the killing could not be successfully carried out in Korea or at Fort Stewart, Georgia, so a decision was made to make it happen over the holiday break in Berrien County.

Cuellar visited family in Chicago and made four separate trips to Berrien County to shoot Sgt. Hassel.

“At times, Jeremy Cuellar says, 'Look, it’s not working out, we’ll do it another time,' and the defendant said, 'No, no, we've got to get it done tonight. Look, this is where he’s at.' [She] even mentions his being at Walmart."

Pierangeli said that 10 minutes before Tyrone Hassel died in the driveway of his parents’ home, Kemia Hassel -- who was inside the home at the time -- was on the phone with Cuellar, telling him exactly where her husband was.

Tyrone Hassel told his wife he was coming home to bring food to her and their son.

The trial could last as long as two weeks, although lawyers on Monday expressed a belief that testimony could wrap by Thursday.