ST. JOSEPH, Mich. - A woman and her boyfriend were deployed with the U.S. Army in South Korea when they conspired via Snapchat to kill her husband so she could claim the life insurance money, police in Michigan said.
Berrian County Judge Sterling Schrock ruled Wednesday in a preliminary hearing that the murder trial of Kemia Hassel, 22, and Jeremy Cuellar, 24, will begin April 30.
Both have pleaded not guilty in the Dec. 31 killing of U.S. Army Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III. Cuellar was also charged with a felony firearms count.
Authorities say the 23-year-old Hassel was ambushed while visiting his family in St. Joseph Township. He died of multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head, according to the autopsy report.
All three were soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
Kemia Hassel told police in a signed statement that she spent months planning how to kill her husband so she could continue her romantic relationship with Cuellar, Township Police Officer Mike Lanier testified Wednesday.
Kemia and Tyrone Hassel married in 2016 and had a 1-year-old son. She told police she was unhappy with her marriage, but didn’t want to go through a divorce because she then wouldn’t be able to receive any life insurance money, Lanier said.
Hassel and Cuellar began plotting while they were deployed in South Korea last year, Lanier said. The pair communicated through Snapchat because they believed the social media app’s temporary messages would make it difficult for police to trace, he said.
Army Specialist Jaquan Hamilton and Army Corporal Tatanya Butler testified that they were aware of Kemia Hassel and Cuellar’s affair and their plan.
Edwin Johnson, Cuellar’s lawyer, said it would be hard to pin the shooting on Cuellar.
“No one saw him at the scene. He was going to give up on this. He wasn’t going to do it. There were several other suspects,” Johnson said.
Kaitlin Locke, Kemia Hassel’s lawyer, said her client shouldn’t be charged with first-degree murder because she didn’t pull the trigger. But Schrock said there was enough evidence to prove she aided and abetted.
Tyrone Hassel’s father, Tyrone Hassel Jr., said it was difficult to hear the details about the plot to kill his son.
“It’s hard to take it in without crying,” Hassel Jr. said.
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