2 Iowa teens plead guilty in Spanish teacher’s beating death

Willard Miller is led into a courtroom Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in Fairfield, Iowa, for a...
Willard Miller is led into a courtroom Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in Fairfield, Iowa, for a hearing related to the murder charge he faces in the 2021 death of Fairfield, Iowa, Spanish teacher Nohema Graber.(Kyle Ocker/The Ottumwa Courier via AP, Pool)
Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 10:41 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2023 at 1:38 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(AP) - Two Iowa teenagers admitted helping ambush and kill their high school Spanish teacher who was beaten to death in a park with a baseball bat. Both pleaded guilty Tuesday to first degree murder.

Prosecutors said Willard Miller and Jeremy Goodale carried out the 2021 attack on Nohema Graber because of a bad grade she had given Miller. The two were 16 at the time.

Evidence shows both Miller and Goodale struck the 66-year-old teacher while she was taking her regular after-school walk, prosecutors say. Miller admitted helping plan and carry out the killing but denied ever hitting Graber. Goodale testified that Miller initiated the plan to kill Graber and each of them struck her.

The Fairfield High School teacher’s body was found hidden in the park under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties. The town of Fairfield is home to some 9,400 people and is around 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Des Moines.

As part of an agreement with Miller, prosecutors will recommend a sentence between 30 years and life in prison, with the possibility of parole. For Goodale, prosecutors said they’ll recommend a sentence between 25 years and life with the possibility of parole.

Goodale testified that they planned the killing for about two weeks, after Miller recruited him to help. Goodale had previously agreed to testify against Miller at his trial, which was expected to begin later this week.

“On Nov. 2 of 2021, I met Willard Miller at Chautauqua Park, and I understood that he had intent to kill Mrs. Graber,” Goodale said as he entered his plea. He said Miller “brought a bat among other supplies to go through with the murder.”

“After he had struck Nohema Graber, he then moved her off of the trail where I then struck her and she died as a result,” Goodale said. “Afterwards, we removed any evidence that we could.”

The two were charged as adults because of the severity of the crime, but they weren’t subject to a mandatory sentence of life without parole because they were 16. Willard is now 17 and Goodale is 18.

Investigators have said that Miller met with Graber at the high school on the afternoon of Nov. 2, 2021, to discuss his poor grade in her class. Graber later drove her van to a park where she was known to take walks after work, authorities say. Witnesses saw her van leaving the park less than an hour later with two males in the front seat.

The van was left abandoned at the end of a rural road. After getting a phone call from Goodale, a witness later picked up Goodale and Miller as they walked to town on that road, investigators say.

Goodale and Miller were initially detained after a witness provided police with photos of a Snapchat conversation in which Goodale allegedly implicated himself and Miller in the killing.

In a police interview, Miller described the frustrations he had with the way Graber taught Spanish and how the grade in her class was lowering his GPA.


This story has been updated to correct Goodale’s age to 18, not 17.