Iowa map
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Iowa Man Convicted of Murdering Black Man and Leaving the Body Burning in a Ditch

Justice has been served in the small rural town of Grinnell, Iowa after a white man who killed a Black man and left his body burning in a ditch was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder.

A 32-year-old man named Steven Vogel was accused of murdering Michael Williams after Williams became involved romantically with a woman Vogel used to date — something prosecutors said the man “just couldn’t handle.” Williams’ family believes his murder was also a hate crime, but Iowa prosecutors in the case refused to bring those charges against Vogel.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, a jury found Vogel guilty of not just murdering Williams but also abusing his corpse after he tried to dispose of the body by lighting it on fire and leaving it in a ditch to burn.

Tim Stelloh of NBC News reported that “three others, including Vogel’s mother, were charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact. Each pleaded not guilty, and their cases are pending, court records show.”

Adam DeCamp, the special agent in charge of the case for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said in a statement, “I’m very thankful the jury verdict came out the way it did. It gives peace to the Williams’ family and the Grinnell community.”

According to Stelloh, “Paula Dee Terrell, Williams’ aunt, said that Williams’ relatives — several of whom traveled to Iowa for the trial from Syracuse, N.Y., where Williams, 44, grew up — were overjoyed with the verdict. But they also felt that authorities minimized the role that race may have played in the murder.”

Reports of how Vogel killed Williams are still not fully clear. In a news release, authorities said he was strangled. However, Terrell told NBC News that in court, a pathologist from the medical examiner’s office described the killing involving a rope around the neck as more akin to a lynching. Because of that assessment, her family had pushed authorities to pursue the case as a possible hate crime. However, officials prosecuting the case declined the additional charge, saying that “a first-degree murder conviction carries a greater maximum sentence.”

“They kept making it like it was nothing,” Terrell told Stelloh. “I see the point [of the maximum sentence], but I think it takes away from history. It needs to be documented what happened in Grinnell, Iowa.”

While the Iowa Attorney General’s office hasn’t responded to Terrell’s claims, DeCamp said he didn’t believe racial hatred had motivated the killing. 

“It certainly would have been charged as such if the evidence had taken us there,” he said.

Sentencing for Vogel’s conviction is currently set for Dec. 13.

 

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.

 

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