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New Year’s Eve Murder: The Murder of Tyrone Hassel III

            On New Year’s Eve 2018, there was a disturbance in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Twenty-one-year-old Kemia Hassel called 911 in hysterics. She told the police that her husband, Tyrone Hassel, had just brought her something to eat. She was eating on the couch, just an hour away from the New Year. Then, she heard gunshots. She found her husband in the driveway suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Tyrone would not get to see the New Year.

            Tyrone Hassel III was born August 23rd, 1995. Tyrone’s parents divorced, but he had a happy and stable relationship with both parents. Growing up, Tyrone lived in Benton Harbor, Michigan. In addition to achieving academic honors, Tyrone was a member of the marching band, baseball team, junior ROTC, and the Kappa League. He graduated high school in 2013 and started college at Grand Valley State University, majoring in mechanical engineering. However, Tyrone made the decision to join the United States Army.

            Tyrone excelled in the military, earning various honors including the Army Achievement Medal, The German Army Proficiency Badge, and in 2017 he was promoted to Sergeant. While in the military, Tyrone met the woman he considered the love of his life. Kemia Martin was also a member of the United States Army. The two fell in love and married on May 17th, 2017. Soon, the two welcomed a son, Tyrone Hassel IV. They started their lives in Georgia, where they were both stationed, but soon were deployed to Korea.

            While both Kemia and Tyrone were in Korea, their son was living with Tyrone’s family. Tyrone would frequently facetime with his son and was eager to get back home to his son. Over the holidays of 2018, Tyrone and Kemia were in Benton Harbor visiting Tyrone’s family. Tyrone’s father was hosting the family as they attempted to make up for lost time.

On New Year’s Eve, Tyrone’s father and stepmother were out of the house and Tyrone attended a party. At about 11 pm, just an hour before the New Year, Tyrone stopped by the house where Kemia and his son were to bring his wife a plate of food. Soon after, shots were fired outside the Benton Harbor home. Kemia was hysterical when she called 911 and Tyrone’s father. Tyrone went into emergency surgery, but unfortunately, he did not survive. Tyrone Hassel III was pronounced dead on December 31st, 2018, at just twenty-three years old.

The police activated the homicide task force as a shocked community struggled to comprehend how something so violent could happen in such a safe neighborhood. Tyrone was not living in Benton Harbor anymore and was not involved in any activities that would put him at risk. He had been serving his country in Korea for the past nine months, so why would someone want to kill him? Just hours later, another shooting occurred just two miles away.

Detectives were considering if the shootings were connected. However, they soon determined that the second shooting was a result of an argument gone wrong at a New Year’s Eve party and was not related to Tyrone’s murder. Officers found a shoe imprint and scent hounds traced a scent through the neighborhood. Where the scent trail ended, the police believed that the murderer had jumped in a vehicle. A neighbor told detectives that a dark colored vehicle was in the neighborhood, parked at a vacant house. They felt this was suspicious, considering the driveway of the vacant home is the location that the scent hounds had lost the scent trail.

With no obvious motive, police were considering the possibility that Tyrone was a victim of mistaken identity. The detectives learned that Tyrone’s stepbrother had been involved in some illegal activity, possibly providing a motive for the crime. Tyrone’s brother was questioned, but detectives determined that this was just another dead end. It seemed this case was going to prove difficult to solve.

Eleven days into the new year, police received an anonymous tip from an unwoman in Georgia. The woman, who lived on the same Army base that Kemia and Tyrone were stationed at, told detectives to look into Kemia. The woman stated that Kemia was having an affair, and this may have led to the murder of Seargent Hassel. The same day, two soldiers at Fort Stewart came forward to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. The soldiers said they believed that a fellow solider, Specialist Jeremy Cuellar, had killed Tyrone.

With these new tips, police learned that Kemia had been having an affair with Jeremy Cuellar. Apparently, the two were seen frequently together by other soldiers while stationed in Korea. Friends of Jeremy said he became obsessed with Kemia, wanting her all to himself. Jeremy, who was also married, had told another soldier on January 8th that he had been the one who shot Tyrone. The witness said Jeremy staked out the home and shot Tyrone multiple times before fleeing.

A warrant for the arrest of Jeremy Cuellar was served shortly after. Inside his home, police found two pistols that Jeremy had purchased in October and December of 2018. A hoodie and gun magazine were also found. The shell casings found at the scene were found to be a match to Jeremy’s weapon. Inside his vehicle, detectives found a receipt for a GPS device from Wal-Mart in which Jeremy had paid cash. In 2018, most people relied on their cellular phone for GPS directions, making this purchase odd. At first, Jeremy refused to talk to the authorities.

Kemia Hassel was brought in for questioning. She admitted to the police that she had been having an affair with Jeremy Cuellar. She also shared that her marriage had not been as happy as it seemed from the outside. She said her husband was a good man, but he was not giving her the love and attention she wanted since their child had been born. This, Kemia said, pushed her into an affair with fellow solider Jeremy Cuellar.

According to Kemia, Jeremy and Kemia were in bed together while stationed in Korea when Jeremy first discussed the possibility of killing Tyrone. All three had been on leave for the holidays that December. Kemia said that Jeremy traveled to Michigan multiple times between December 19th and December 31st. She had kept her lover up to date on her husband’s whereabouts. She said she knew all along who had killed her husband and that the motive had been her husband’s $400,000 life insurance policy. Kemia was arrested along with Jeremy, and both were charged with murder.

Before going to trial, the defense for Kemia Hassel filed a motion to have her confession thrown out on the grounds that it was a coerced confession. However, Kemia had called her mother shortly after her arrest and the call had been recorded. In this call, Kemia admits to planning the murder along with Jeremy while they were stationed in Korea. Snap Chat data on Jeremy’s phone showed that Kemia and Jeremy had been communicating about the murder plan for over six months. The evidence also showed that Kemia had pushed Jeremy to commit the crime. The night of the murder, Kemia sent Jeremy a message insisting he commit the crime when Tyrone returned home to give her the food.

Despite her attempts to push the blame on Jeremy, Kemia Hassel was found guilty on July 18th, 2019, of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. She was sentenced to life in prison. Throughout the court proceedings, Kemia showed no remorse and said nothing to the family of Tyrone. Her evil wicked plan to murder her husband while he enjoyed his holiday leave devastated his entire family and left their son without a father. Kemia is currently incarcerated at Michigan’s Huron Valley Women’s Complex.

Following the verdict in Kemia’s case, Jeremy Cuellar accepted a plea deal in which he agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder. Jeremy was sentenced to sixty-five years in prison. Jeremy has shown remorse, stating that he was played by Kemia. He spoke to Tyrone’s father, apologizing for the act of evil he perpetrated that holiday season. Jeremy is currently serving his sentence at Michigan’s Richard A Handlon Correction Facility. His earliest release date is January 9th, 2084, at which time Jeremy will be ninety years old.

As Tyrone’s father and stepmother raise his son, they have to live with the reality that their son is never coming back. Every holiday season will serve as a horrible reminder of the heinous crime that occurred on December 31st, 2018. One day, they will have to explain to Tyrone’s son that his own mother was responsible for the death of his father. Tyrone was only in his early twenties and had a bright future ahead of him, but that was snuffed out by the very person he loved most.


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