Wife of slain Berrien Co. soldier admits she could have called off murder

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ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WNDU) - Kemia Hassel admitted she could have stopped the New Year's Eve murder of her husband, Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III.

But she didn't.

The trial against the Army soldier continued Tuesday in a Berrien County courtroom, where the prosecution showed her taped interview with Michigan State Police detective Andrew Longuski.

"I was feeling so bad," Kemia Hassel said of her marriage.

She confessed she felt she was the primary caretaker of their son and that the couple rarely had time alone. She said Tyrone Hassel planned to have his sister move in with them, and Kemia Hassel had no influence over the decision.

Kemia Hassel also admitted that she confided in her alleged co-conspirator, Jeremy Cuellar, after an argument with Tyrone Hassel. Cuellar's response to her was, "I can handle that," she said.

Cuellar also promised to take care of her and her son, with plans to live together in Georgia after the murder.

The two planned the killing while all three were stationed in Korea. Kemia Hassel told Longuski that she didn't take Cuellar seriously at first, and then she was then afraid to stop him because she "didn't want him to be mad at me".

Kemia Hassel gave examples of Cuellar's aggressiveness and told Longuski that he had been physically abusive toward her in the past. She admitted that although Tyrone Hassel would not have wanted to separate, in hindsight, she should have divorced him.

Defense attorney Chris Keller painted Kemia Hassel's confession differently, believing Longuski used Kemia’s emotions against her. The attorney also claimed Cuellar was a master manipulator.

"You talked about Tyrone not being a good husband, right?" Keller asked Longuski on the stand.

"Yes, I did." Longuski responded.

"That's something that you brought up, correct?"

"Absolutely."

"And it's only after you brought it up that Kemia started talking about him not being a good husband, is that correct?"

"I think she actually said he wasn't the worst husband. We came to that conclusion."

The prosecution noted that Kemia Hassel willingly talked with Michigan State Police starting around midnight on Jan. 12, after a voluntary interview with St. Joseph Township police hours before on Jan. 11.

St. Joseph Township police brought her in for questioning after Georgia authorities contacted the department. Other soldiers told Southern authorities that Kemia could be involved her husband's death.

"When you were interviewing her the second time, did she appear comfortable with you?" Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli asked.

"Yes she did," Longuski replied.

"Did you also tell her that she could leave at any time?"

"I did not during the second interview."

"Was she still able to leave at any time?"

"Still in the same location, same interview, yes."

In other prosecution-led testimony, two soldiers who were friends with Kemia Hassel and Cuellar testified that the two were having an affair. One revealed that Cuellar confessed to him about the murder and the plan.

A married couple who live near the crime scene also told jurors they saw an unfamiliar car parked at a vacant house across the street from their home on New Year's Eve. The husband said he saw a person grab something from the backseat, and soon after, they heard apparent gunshots.

Jurors later learned that Georgia authorities uncovered evidence after searching Cuellar's home and car.

According to detective Brittany Fleming with the Liberty County Sheriff's Office investigators found one 9 mm bullet in the front seat of his black Chevrolet Impala. They also discovered three bullets in the driver's seat back pocket and a 9 mm magazine on the floor behind the passenger seat.

Divorce papers for Cuellar and his wife were also in the driver's side back pocket, and a Walmart receipt from the Chicago area was found in the car.

In Cuellar's home, detectives found a Sprint bag with evidence of a newly activated iPhone, temporary firearm registration paperwork, a Glock 23 semi-automatic pistol, along with bullets and magazines for a Ruger 9 mm firearm. Authorities did not find the 9 mm weapon.

A fellow soldier testified he sold Cuellar both pistols in late 2018. Sgt. Tadarius Gholston said he knew Cuellar through friends. He said he sold him the 9 mm in October for $400, along with four magazines. In December, Cuellar purchased the Glock 23.

Kemia Hassel's trial is expected to last through Friday.