By Scott Carlson
On the day that a teenage assailant gunned down her husband as he interrupted their auto theft in front his house, Hilary Brasel knew her life was tragically altered.
“May 6, this was the morning that changed everything,” Hilary said as she read her victim’s impact statement to a Ramsey County judge at the sentencing of 17-year-old Kle Swee for her husband’s death.
“That day I lost my husband, but more importantly I lost my best friend,” she told the court on Oct. 4. “I no longer have my soulmate, and the man who loved me for 23 years. I no longer have the man who gave me my last name, my two boys, and the man who was my ultimate version of “home.”
It’s been almost six months since the day Michael Brasel confronted Swee and his accomplices breaking into Hilary’s Ford Flex parked out in front of their house.
“I still cannot believe the footage recovered from our neighbors’ cameras that morning,” Hilary said. “It shows that the whole interaction of the teens in the car with Michael was less than 57 seconds, between the time the car pulled up, and the car drove away. He was an innocent man who did not deserve to be murdered.
“Michael had no choice that morning in how his future would play out. Now, he only lives in a shiny metal box that we visit every day.”
In a nearly hour-long interview with the Bugle, Hilary said she struggles to re-establish normal life for her and her two sons, one now in high school, the other in middle school. Her boys are back in school, have resumed playing youth hockey and have tried to celebrate holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
But she added that “every day is an odd mix” and life “is bittersweet,” knowing Michael won’t be there to see his sons grow up to become men.
“We try to keep going but it is also weird not knowing what to do,” Hilary said.
These days, Hilary faces myriad challenges, from running her household and paying the bills to deciding when will she be ready to return to her job as a pediatric nurse.
“Because of Michael’s murder I am currently on a leave from my job at Children’s Hospital,” Hilary said in her victim’s impact statement. “I work as a pediatric nurse in many areas of the hospital, including the PICU. I am on a leave because the strength it takes to care for others with acute healthcare needs, is something I cannot handle right now.
“I am not sure how I will handle caring for intubated and vented patients, when the last time I saw a breathing tube, it was in the mouth of my murdered husband.”
Hilary also has had an array of legal proceedings and administrative issues to navigate, from meeting with police and attorneys regarding her husband’s homicide to conducting Michael’s estate and applying for Social Security benefits for her sons.
As an aside, Hilary said she is no stranger to St. Paul criminal court proceedings: Two summers ago, she was a juror in a St. Paul murder case that ended in an acquittal because some potential witnesses declined to testify in the case.
“We didn’t decide what person pulled the trigger,” Hilary said about that murder trial.
Hilary said her experience as a juror oddly gave her insights on how to handle being involved in her husband’s homicide case. – what to expect in court and how to accept the rhythm of the court proceedings.
“I was prepared for how awkward the conversations can be,” Hilary said. She looked for straight answers to her questions as her husband’s case wound its way through the court.
Meanwhile, Hilary said she is still working through her grief after losing Michael and hasn’t thought about whether she wants to talk to his killer, Kle Swee.
“I know young people make mistakes,” she said. “I have the urge, struggle to want to help.”
But, for now, Hilary said, “That’s not where I want to put my energy.”
As she grieves and focuses on healing for her sons and herself, Hilary said the support of family and friends has been immensely helpful.
“The community has been very generous,” she said. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $200,000 for her family, and the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation this fall created an endowment fund in honor of Michael, who coached boys’ hockey, to support youth activities.
Additionally, the family has established an annual scholarship at Cretin-Derham High School in memory and honor of Michael, who was a 1996 graduate.
“By the direction of the Brasel family, this fund will be used to advance the mission of Cretin-Derham Hall by providing financial assistance to students whose families have been impacted by violence,” according to the scholarship criteria.
Scott Carlson is managing editor of the Park Bugle.