Ultimate betrayal: Father of slain Berrien Co. soldier shares his pain

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BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - It's been nine months since the New Year's Eve murder of Army Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III.

Though his killers have been caught, his family will never be the same.

In a 16 News Now exclusive, Kim Shine sits down with Sgt. Hassel's father as he struggles with his daughter-in-law's ultimate betrayal.

"Pictures of him when he was a baby. This one is, I believe, his second birthday. When he turned 2. In this picture, he was 4."

For Tyrone Hassel Jr., his days now are about reminiscing.

"This is his high school diploma," he said.

He focuses on the good times with his son and namesake, Tyrone Hassel III. His son was a fearless 23-year-old who enjoyed life, sinking trick shots in pool and serving in the U.S. Army.

"It means a whole lot, because I didn't have that mentality," Hassel Jr. said. "You know, he opened my eyes to a lot, and I was behind him 100%."

But even when memories bring smiles, Hassel, Jr. knows life now will always be different.

"I think it's harder when you've got a question that only he can answer. You're trying to get something done and you can't," the father said.

Hassel Jr. said his entire family is suffering after the death of his son. His violent death on New Year's Eve 2018 was a planned ambushed by the sergeant's wife, Kemia Hassel, and her boyfriend, Jeremy Cuellar. All three lived in Georgia and were on holiday leave from the Army.

After the shooting, Kemia called 911 and her husband's father.

"Where are we standing right now, at this point?" 16 News Now's Kim Shine asked.

"We're standing, right now, where he was laying when he was shot," Hassel Jr. said.

That night, Hassel Jr. said he rushed to his house, pulling up at the same time as many officers.

"I was shocked because when she called me, I felt like it was no way possible that my son could have gotten shot, he just walked out the door," Hassel Jr. recalled.

He hoped for a miracle as he watched the paramedics work. But he knew his son was gone, and that his now 2-year-old grandson had lost his father.

In the weeks after the murder, most of the Hassel family was terrified and on edge.

"Even with Kemia, I kept her away from windows, doors. When she walked outside, I would snatch her back in and be like, 'Hold on, let me go out there first,'" Hassel Jr. explained.

He said the night before his son's funeral, a phone call changed everything.

"I got a call from Officer Peppers, and he was like, 'Tyrone, something just came up. I need you and Kemia to go the Sheriff's department.' But he was like, 'Bring her phone with you,'" Hassel Jr. said.

They had talked to detectives before, so Hassel Jr. followed routine. He says his son's widow went willingly and naturally grabbed her cell phone.

"So, we got there, they were waiting at the door. They had the door open. We walked in, they were like, 'Mr. Hassel, sit right here. Kemia, come in here.' They let that door close on me to where it separated us, and Lt. Biggart walked in and said, 'Mr. Hassel, go home it's going to be a long night,'" Hassel Jr. recalled.

And it was. It was then, just hours before laying his son to rest, the family learned who killed Hassel III.

"He came in and was like, 'We solved your son's murder. It was Kemia.' And my whole family just went berserk," Hassel Jr. said. "The detectives were telling me, you don't want to hear this. It's bad. And when they said that, it was like, man, she's heartless. And after hearing all of that, I know it was the truth"

In August, a Berrien County judge sentenced Kemia Hassel, 22, to life in prison. Court testimony revealed she and Cuellar planned the killing via Snapchat to get more $400,000 in her husband's death benefits.

Cuellar, the shooter, took a deal. The 25-year-old pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and a minimum sentence of 65 years behind bars.

Michigan does not have the death penalty.

"A lot of people say they should fry, they should do this," Hassel Jr. said. "Put it like this, and I hate to sound so harsh, but I would rather you turn them over to me than give them the death penalty."

Nine months after the tragedy, signs of a crime scene remain outside the Hassel home. There is a bullet hole in the garage door and another one in the backyard fence.

There were talks of moving away, but Hassel Jr. felt he'd be leaving his son, and his friend, behind.

So instead, he placed a flag.

"I know this is not his grave, but this is where it happened," Hassel Jr. said. "And, you know, most people take flowers and teddy bears and stuff and put out, there was a car accident, was where they lost their loved one, but he was a soldier."

Right now, Hassel III's 2-year-old son is in Georgia with Kemia Hassel's parents. Hassel Jr. said he wants to work out a custody agreement with them.

16 News Now's Kim Shine also spoke with Kemia Hassel's mom over the phone. Shine asked her mom if she'd like to say anything, or speak on her daughter's behalf, but she had no comment.

Jeremy Cuellar returns to court for sentencing Sept. 23.