'A Lynching': Iowa Man Killed, Then Burned Black Man Out of Jealousy Related to Girlfriend

Steven Vogel was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of 44-year-old Michael Williams, who was beaten, hanged and set on fire

Photo: Iowa Department of Public Safety (2)

A 32-year-old Iowa man will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing 44-year-old Michael Williams, a judge announced Monday.

In November, Steven Vogel, a white man, was convicted of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse after beating and hanging Williams, a Black man, in 2020, then throwing his body in a ditch and setting it on fire days later.

During the trial, witnesses testified that Vogel told at least three people that he killed Williams out of jealousy, referencing a love triangle involving his girlfriend, the Des Moines Register reports.

Vogel and Williams were known acquaintances who socialized in the same circles.

Williams' body was discovered in rural Kellogg, Iowa, on Sept. 16, 2020, while authorities were investigating a fire coming from a ditch on the side of the road, according to police complaints obtained by PEOPLE. Once the fire was extinguished, authorities saw charred human remains wrapped in plastic and cloth and bound with rope and duct tape.

The remains were later identified by a medical examiner as belonging to Williams, whose death was ruled a homicide by strangulation.

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Three others were charged with assisting Vogel after he murdered Williams: Vogel's mother, Julia Cox; his mother's boyfriend, Roy Garner; and Vogel's friend, Cody Johnson.

Through witness interviews, investigators learned that on or around Sept. 12, 2020, Vogel "clubbed" Williams — whom he called "Black Mike," according to Johnson — then strangled him to death.

During Vogel's trial, Johnson and a medical examiner testified that Williams was strangled by being hanged with a rope for five-to-six minutes until he died, according to Iowa Public Radio and Des Moines Register.

Williams' body was reportedly stored in Vogel's basement in Grinnell, Iowa, until Sept. 16, when it was discarded in the Kellogg ditch and set on fire.

'Dangerous and Cold-Blooded Killer'

During Vogel's sentencing — in which he was ordered to life in prison without the possibility of parole — Judge Shawn Showers said that the killer doesn't deserve to be on the streets or ever meet a parole board, Iowa Public Radio reports.

"These sentences are made for people like you who commit these horrific offenses and take others' lives without any regard for consequences," Showers said. "You are a dangerous cold-blooded killer. You'll have the rest of your life to think about what you did, the loss and the pain that you caused, and the precious life that you ended."

He added: "You treated Michael Williams like he was not human. You clubbed him. Strangled him to death. Kept him in your basement like an animal that you would kill. You wrapped up his body, set it on fire. And you dehumanized Michael Williams. And Mr. Williams did not deserve that."

Though investigators and the regional chapter of the NAACP have both stated Vogel's actions don't appear to be racially motivated, Williams' family believes it's a hate crime reminiscent of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till — a Black teen who was hanged after a white woman falsely accused him of lewd behavior.

"The love interest in this love triangle had been with several other people prior to alleging to be with my nephew. Those people were not murdered. Why kill 'Black Mike,' as he was referred to by the defendant? Why did he have to kill Black Mike?" Terrell said. "It was a lynching."

Though the prosecution in Vogel's trial did not focus on race, Williams' family is content with his sentencing, Iowa Public Radio reports — and thankful to the all-white jury for unanimously returning guilty verdicts in less than four hours.

"[The justice system] worked here," said James Byrd-Williams, Williams' father. "I'm satisfied."

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