Police in Michigan say that two Georgia-based soldiers spent months planning the murder of the husband of one of the soldiers and specifically used Snapchat as a way of attempting to keep the plot secret.
In a story highlighted by Military Times, the Kalamazoo Gazette reports that while both Spc. Kemia Hassel, 22, and her co-defendant, Spc. Jeremey Cuellar, 24, have pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, police say that Hassel admitted to them that she planned the New Year's Eve murder of her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III, 23 — and says she and Cuellar used Snapchat in an attempt to conceal their plot.
"The wife of an Army sergeant killed in December admitted that she planned his killing together with another man, communicating on Snapchat in an attempt to hide their communications, according to statements she made to police," the Gazette reports.
Snapchat's key distinguishing feature is that it deletes video and image messages sent between users as a way of keeping interaction flow more "natural" and to avoid the "permanent" and public nature of other social media platforms.
St. Joseph Township Police Officer Mike Lanier told the court Wednesday during a preliminary examination that Hassel had plotted with Cueller for months about killing her husband so they could be together and she could collect his life insurance money.
"The murder charges were filed against the pair after a police investigation revealed an alleged affair and plot to kill Tyrone Hassel III," the Gazette reports. "The defendants hoped to continue their relationship and reap financial benefits resulting from Hassel’s death, according to a press release from the Berrien County Sheriff’s office."
Though police say defendant Cassel admitted to the crime, she and her alleged partner pleaded not guilty to first-degree, premeditated murder, which can carry a lifetime prison sentence.
Sgt. Hassel was shot dead outside of his father's home in St. Joseph Township on December 31, 2018. Lanier arrived on the scene to find the sergeant lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to his head.
"Lanier testified that Kemia Hassel admitted to planning the killing, calling it a '50/50 deal' with the co-defendant Cuellar," the Gazette reports. "According to Lanier’s testimony, Hassel said yes when questioned by police about whether she planned her husband’s death, if the plan began months before, and whether money was a motivator for the murder."
The defendant told police that she was unhappy with her marriage and eventually developed a relationship with Cuellar. She told police that she would not consider divorce because she wouldn't get any life insurance payout that way. Kemia and Tyrone have a one-year-old child together.
The Hassels and Cuellar were stationed at Georgia's Fort Stewart, but the plot allegedly began while both Kemia and Cuellar were deployed in Korea for several months in 2018. The two allegedly decided to kill her husband off-base while on holiday leave to make it easier to pull off. After staking out the Hassel's Michigan home, Cuellar allegedly shot Hassel outside his father's home after he returned from a family gathering at around 11 p.m.