An Iowa man is guilty of the murder of a black man whose body was found burning in a ditch

The jury convicted Michael Williams of the first-degree murder of an Iowa man on Tuesday, the murder of a black man whose body was found burning in a ditch last year.

White Steven Vogel, 32, was also found guilty of body abuse in a case that Williams ’relatives see as a possible hate crime, but authorities described a relationship dispute that turned deadly.

Three other people, including Vogel’s mother, were charged with the subsequent use of the body and equipment. Everyone denied their innocence, and their cases are pending, court records show.

Michael Williams.Paula Terrell promised

“I am very grateful that the jury’s verdict came as it came,” Adam DeCamp, a special agent in the Iowa Criminal Investigation Department, said Tuesday.

“It gives peace to Williams’ family and the Grinnell community, ”he said, referring to the small town where Williams lived.

Paula Dee Terrell, Williams ’aunt, said Williams’ relatives – several of whom traveled to Iowa for a trial in Syracuse, New York, where Williams, 44, grew up – were very happy with the verdict. But they also said authorities are minimizing the role the race may have played in the murder.

Before Williams’ body was set on fire, authorities said in a press release that he was probably strangled. But in court, Terrell said, a pathologist at the doctor’s office described a rope tied around Williams’ neck – a method Terrell said resembled lynching. NBC News has not independently confirmed Terrell’s claim in the autopsy report.

Terrell said during a family meeting at the Grinnell Police Department with the Deputy Attorney General and other officials in October 2020 that his family forced the authorities to continue the case as a possible hate crime. But officials said the first-degree murder sentence had a higher maximum sentence, he recalled they said.

Michael Williams with his mother Powell Mejias.Paula Terrell promised

“They made it look like it was nothing,” Terrell said. “I see the purpose, but I think it takes history. It has to document what happened in Grinnell, Iowa.”

The Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to the request for comment. DeCamp said there was no evidence that racial hatred motivated the killing.

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

Instead, DeCamp said Williams – who had moved to Iowa 12 years before his murder – was dealing with a woman who had been with Vogel before.

“That fact was more than Steven could handle,” he said.

When he killed Williams, authorities said Vogel wrapped the body in cloth and plastic and hired others to help take it to the ditch east of Grinnell. Firefighters found Williams’ burning body shortly before 6 p.m.

Vogel’s verdict is set for December 13th.

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