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Iowa Man Guilty of Murder After Hanging Black Man and Burning Body in a Ditch

An Iowa man accused of killing a man last year and leaving his body burning in a ditch was convicted of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse on Tuesday.

Steven Vogel, 32, was found guilty of the murder of Michael Williams, 44, whose body was found burning in a ditch on Sept. 16, 2020. The cause of Williams’ death was ruled homicide by strangulation.

Relatives of Williams, who is Black, see the murder as a possible hate crime, however, authorities described it as a relationship dispute that turned lethal. Although all four suspects involved in the case were white, the Iowa-Nebraska chapter of the NAACP has said there is no evidence to suggest that Williams was killed because of his race.

Testimony during the trial indicated that Vogel told witnesses he killed Williams out of jealousy over a “love triangle” involving Vogel’s girlfriend.

Three others, including Vogel’s mother, were charged with destroying evidence, abuse of a corpse, and accessory after the fact. According to court records, each pleaded not guilty, and their cases are pending.

The courtroom was filled with friends, supporters, and family of Williams. Although they were happy with the guilty verdict, they also felt the authorities minimized the role that race may have played in the murder.

During the trial, which began Nov. 10, Cody Johnson testified that Vogel told him he had killed “Black Mike” by clubbing his head from behind and hanging him with a rope in the basement of Vogel’s Grinnell, Iowa home. 

The medical examiner on the case testified that the injuries on Williams’ head were consistent with blunt-force trauma and said Williams appeared to have been strangled for five to six minutes.

“If this isn’t a lynching, then what was it?” said James Williams, 69, of Miami, Fla. “This is hate.”

Williams’ aunt, Paula Dee Terrell, said her family pushed authorities to pursue the case as a possible hate crime. But the officials said that a first-degree murder conviction carried a greater maximum sentence, she recalled them saying.

After killing Williams, authorities said Vogel wrapped the body in cloth and plastic before enlisting others to help him take it to a ditch east of Grinnell and set his body on fire. Firefights found the body later that day. Police believe Williams was killed on or around Sept. 12, 2020, and had been in Vogel’s basement for days before being moved to the ditch.

Vogel’s sentencing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma.

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