KEY POINTS

  • Michael Williams’ body was found in a roadside ditch, Iowa Department of Public Safety said in a statement
  • The cause of death was deemed to be strangulation as the victim was killed a week before the horrific discovery
  • Iowa-Nebraska civil rights organization said there was “no indication” the crime was racially motivated

Authorities in Iowa arrested at least four persons Tuesday after a Black man’s body was found burning in a ditch. Police and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) officials say there is no evidence it was a hate crime.

The body of Michael Williams, 44, was found Sept. 16 in a ditch near Mariposa County Park in the city of Kellogg. Responding officers found Williams’ body on fire in a roadside ditch and put out the flames, the state Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

A subsequent police investigation revealed Williams was killed a week before his body was found. The cause of death was deemed to be strangulation. Police said the homicide didn’t appear to be racially motivated.

“The investigation has revealed no evidence to show the acts against Michael Williams were motivated by his race nor that his death was the result of a hate crime,” according to the statement.

Police said in the statement after Williams was killed, his body was wrapped in cloth and plastic, sealed with rope and tape and was transported to Kellogg, where it was set ablaze.

Four individuals, Steven Vogel, 31, Julia Cox, 55, Roy Lee Garner, 57, and Cody Johnson, 29, were arrested in connection with Williams’ death Sept. 22. Police said all of them were from Grinnell, the same town as the victim.

Law enforcement officers from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Grinnell Police Department announced the charges against the detainees during a press conference Tuesday, Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.

Vogel was charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse and was being held at the Marshall County Jail, where he had already been in custody on unrelated charges. Johnson was charged with abuse of a corpse and being accessory after the fact. Cox, Johnson and Garner were being held at the Poweshiek County jail pending charges.

During the press conference, Grinnell Police Chief Dennis Reilly said the people who committed the crime knew each other and that Williams was a part of their social circle.

“Those responsible for this heinous act --- they knew each other,” Reilly said. “They hung out together. Mike hung out with them. Mike was a part of their circle. They’ve known each other for years.”

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Conference of Branches, said her organization found “no indication” that Williams’ race was a factor in his killing. “Justice is still needed in this case,” she said.

The case remains under investigation.

handcuffs-354042_1920 Nancy Nguyen was charged with misdemeanor offenses for dumping garbage on the property of the acting director of ICE. This is a representational image. Photo: Photo by Pixabay (CC0)