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An Iowa man convicted of hanging a Black man and then burning his body in a ditch will spend the rest of his life behind bars after a judge admonished him for being a “dangerous cold-blooded killer.”
Steven Vogel was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the horrific killing of 44-year-old Michael Williams, whose body was stored in Vogel’s basement for days before being lit on fire in a rural Iowa ditch on Sept. 16, 2020, according to Iowa Public Radio.
“Mr. Vogel, you’re why Iowa has life without the possibility of parole,” Judge Shawn Showers said while handing down the sentence. “You don’t deserve to be on the streets. You don’t deserve to see a parole board. You are a dangerous cold-blooded killer. You’ll have the rest of your life to think about what you did, the loss and pain that you caused, and the precious life that you ended.”
Vogel was convicted last month in Keokuk County of clubbing Williams in the head then hanging him from a rope in the basement of Vogel’s Grinnell home.
During the trial, a state medical examiner testified that Williams died after being strangled for five to six minutes, The Des Moines Register reports.
After his death, witnesses testified that Vogel bragged about the killing—even showing off the body to friends—before dumping it into the ditch and setting it on fire.
While Williams’ family has insisted that race was a factor in the death, calling it a modern day “lynching,” the state argued that Vogel killed Williams out of jealousy because of a “love triangle” with Vogel’s girlfriend.
Showers remarked on the callous nature of the killing on Monday.
“You treated Michael Williams like he was not human,” he said, according to Iowa Public Radio. “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.”
Williams—a native of Syracuse, New York who moved to Iowa to be closer to family—was described by relatives during a series of victim impact statements as a loving father and grandfather.
“You thought you would get away with what you did,” his son Dante Williams said. “You thought people didn’t care enough about him to research and find out what really happened. That is not the case. There’s a lot of love behind my father.”
Williams’ aunt, Paula Terrell, also spoke about how the murder had tormented Williams’ mother and triggered a series of health problems, including depression and a stroke.
“In some ways, I’m glad my sister was not able to travel here for the trial,” she said, according to the news outlet. “I am sure the state’s pictures of her [son’s body and autopsy] would have caused her demise.”
Vogel opted not to address the court and made no public statement.
Vogel shared the house with his mother, Julia Cox and Roy Garner, who have both been accused of abusing Williams’ corpse and helping to destroy evidence. They've pleaded not guilty in the case.
Vogel’s friend, Cody Johnson, is also accused of helping to destroy evidence in the case. Johnson allegedly told investigators that he went to Vogel’s house and saw Williams’ body in the basement “wrapped up in something,” according to a criminal complaint in the case. He allegedly returned to the house a few days later and offered to help get rid of the body in exchange for drugs, authorities said.
Williams’ family believes his death was racially motivated and pointed to other historic lynchings in the country’s history after Black men have been accused of having a sexual relationship with a white woman.
“If this isn’t a lynching, then what is it?” James Williams asked, according to the local paper. “This is hate.”
Betty Andrews, the president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, also believes there were racial elements to the killing and said the organization plans to support the family.
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown said prosecutors “certainly respect those feelings” but had to focus on the evidence available when making their case.
“It’s one of those things were the motive that was developed with the evidence that we had had to do with the girlfriend of Steven Vogel and that’s why we chose to go the direction that he did,” he said.
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