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‘I’m Holding Myself Back’: Father Lashes Out During Sentencing Hearing of White Man Who Hanged and Torched His Son

An Iowa judge has just made sure that Steven Vogel will spend the rest of his life behind bars for killing a Black man in Michael Williams in 2020. After a jury voted to convict him of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse, the murderer received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Judge Shawn Showers gave the news to Vogel and his legal team on Monday, Dec. 13. At the sentencing hearing, the District 8A judge called him “a cold-blooded murderer with hate in his heart.”

Steven Vogel (left), Michael Williams (right)

He continued, “These sentences are made for people like you who commit these horrific offenses and take others’ lives without any regard for consequences.”

On September 16, 2020, the body of Michael Williams was found burning in a ditch in rural Jasper County. Medical examiners determined that Williams was killed four days before the corpse was burned, and that he died by strangulation. 

Four people were arrested in connection to this murder: Steven Vogel, 31, Julia Cox, 55, Roy Garner, 57, and Cody Johnson, 29. Vogel knew Williams for several years and was changed with his death. The other three people, all white, were charged with abuse of a corpse, destruction of evidence, and as accessories to the crime.

The motive for the killing was reportedly linked to a “love triangle” between Vogel, his girlfriend, and Williams. 

The State suggested that Vogel was jealous of Williams and had sent Facebook messages days before the murder to a friend about his desire to kill the 44-year-old man.

Three people also testified that Vogel told them that he killed “Black Mike.” One witness shared that Williams was clubbed in the head before he was hung by a rope in Vogel’s basement.

In review of the crime, the judge also said to Vogel, “You’re why Iowa has life without the possibility of parole. 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 the pain that you caused, and the precious life that you ended,” he remarked.

“You treated Michael Williams like he was not human,” Showers continued. “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.”

The judge offered Vogel an opportunity to say something in defense of himself. He chose not to. However, Williams’ family shared their sentiments in the courtroom and directed their words to the man that took their loved one’s life.

Michael’s son Dante Williams said “You thought you would get away with what you did. 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.”

The deceased’s father, James Williams, also spoke. He expressed how much he wanted to hurt Vogel. 

“You burned his body. Threw him in a ditch like he was garbage,” his words simmered as he said. “You’re very lucky that I’m holding myself back from jumping over this thing and breaking your neck.”

One of the last voices from the family to speak about the impact of the murder was Michael’s maternal aunt, Paula Terrell. She shared that her sister, Michael’s mother, had a stroke from the stress of his death and now lives in a nursing facility, relearning how to walk. She further emphasized how depressed her sister has become.

“In some ways, I’m glad my sister was not able to travel here for the trial. I am sure the state’s pictures of her [son’s body and autopsy] would have caused her demise,” the aunt remarked. “How do you tell your sister that the graphic pictures we all have seen of Emmett Till pales in comparison to the pictures of her son?”

Police investigating the crime assert that race was not a factor in his death. Still, the family has maintained that it is, calling his death a “lynching” and connecting Williams’ death to Till’s by bringing the unique similarities in the two Black males’ death.

“It’s putting that rope around his neck and holding it for over six minutes, causing his death, is the definition of a hanging. A lynching,” Terrell said in November. “A white man lynched a Black man over a white woman.”

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