Jury convicts Des Moines man in January murder of roommate

A Polk County jury found a Des Moines man guilty of first-degree murder Monday for the January killing of his roommate.

In a trial that started last week, prosecutors alleged 51-year-old Surfun Boens killed Russell McKeehan Jr., who had been staying in his hotel room, and whom he had not been able to have removed despite several calls to police.

Boens called emergency responders Jan. 13 and said his “brother" was unresponsive in their hotel room in the 4800 block of Fleur Drive, according to a news release from the Polk County Attorney's Office. Officials found 45-year-old McKeehan dead from gunshot injuries.

45-year-old Des Moines resident Russell Allen McKeehan Jr. died from an apparent gunshot wound on Jan. 13. His death is being investigated as the city's second homicide of 2023.
45-year-old Des Moines resident Russell Allen McKeehan Jr. died from an apparent gunshot wound on Jan. 13. His death is being investigated as the city's second homicide of 2023.

Several witnesses said they heard loud "thumps" that morning, which they believed to be gunshots, according to a criminal complaint. A witness looked out a peephole but did not see anything in the hallway. However, the witness said they heard a male voice repeat expletives for a few minutes after the thumping sounds stopped.

Evidence showed Boens left and came back to the room multiple times in the hours in between the shots and 911 call, according to the release. Witnesses also said he had admitted to doing “something really bad.”

McKeehan’s death was the second homicide of 2023.

Amanda Johnson, assistant Polk County attorney, said in opening arguments on Nov. 14 that McKeehan didn't own much, just some things he could fit in a few bags. At the time he was killed, he was living with Boens in room 226 at the Fleur Lodge, which she described as "really only suitable for one man, and therein lies the problem. Conflict was inevitable."

On Friday during closing arguments, Assistant County Attorney Kevin Bell told the jury McKeehan had been sleeping on the bathroom floor, using a coat as a pillow, just trying to survive.

"(McKeehan) was at the Fleur Lodge, where people go when their lives are coming together, or where people go when their lives are falling apart. Russell was the latter," Bell said. "He was on the edge of homelessness. He was stuck in room 226 with the defendant, a guy who didn’t want him there."

In the weeks leading up to the murder, Johnson said Boens called police twice trying to get McKeehan out of the room. In recorded conversations with police and dispatchers, Bell said, Boens made several threatening statements to or about McKeehan. The night of McKeehan's death, the prosecution said Boens reached out to several people saying he did something bad and needed to leave town.

Police did not recover the murder weapon, but found several rounds of ammunition matching those fired at McKeehan around Boens' room. Prosecutors also pointed the jury to a seemingly pre-existing hole in Boens' wall as well as previous text messages to his mother about having a gun.

Defense attorney Wendy Samuelson said during closing arguments that there is a pretty big leap from someone not wanting you around to first-degree murder.

"What do Russ and Mr. Boens do? They drink and they argue. They loved each other like brothers, but they drink and they argue," Samuelson said.

Rather than an admission to owning a gun, Boens' text messages amounted to him "talking to mom and making a veiled suicide threat," Samuelson said, adding that neither the hole in the wall nor the ammunition found conclusively proved Boens had a gun at the time of the shooting.

Even if the jury did find Boens had shot McKeehan, Samuelson said, the evidence pointed to voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree-murder.

As the verdict was read shortly before noon Monday, Boens said nothing. He stared straight ahead without responding as the judged asked him about his rights.

The conviction carries a mandatory life sentence. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Noelle Alviz-Gransee is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Follow her on Twitter@NoelleHannika or email her at NAlvizGransee@registermedia.com.

William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at wrmorris2@registermedia.com, 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 51-year-old Des Moines man convicted of murdering roommate in January