Iowa Youth Sentenced to Life with Chance for Parole After 35 Years for Brutal Killing of Spanish Tutor

by Ethan Kim
Iowa Teen Sentencing

An Iowa teen, the first of two defendants, has been given a life sentence with the chance for parole after 35 years, for his role in the brutal murder of his Spanish teacher using a baseball bat. The sentence was handed down on Thursday.

The sentencing of Willard Miller took place following a hearing that spanned over seven hours. Miller, alongside his fellow teenager, Jeremy Goodale, pleaded guilty in April to the fatal 2021 assault on Nohema Graber, a 66-year-old tutor. The attack occurred while Graber was on her routine afternoon stroll in a Fairfield park.

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During Miller’s sentencing, District Court Judge Shawn Showers made note of Miller’s youth, but also emphasized that he had “curtailed Nohema Graber’s valuable life,” causing grief to her family and shock in the community.

“Your intentions and actions were wicked and malevolent, leading to the intentional obliteration of a human life in an atrocious manner,” Judge Showers remarked. “There is no justification.”

As per the plea deal, the prosecution had suggested a prison term for Miller ranging from 30 years to life, with the prospect of parole. Goodale’s sentencing will follow.

Miller accepted culpability for his actions during his court appearance on Thursday and offered an apology to the Graber family.

He expressed deep regret for his actions, saying, “I am genuinely sorry for the anguish I have inflicted on you and the turmoil I have created within your family.”

He also expressed his apologies to the community of Fairfield, his own family, Goodale’s family, and law enforcement officers.

He continued, “I now fully comprehend the severity of my actions, I understand they were wrong and I accepted that even when I made them.”

Graber was portrayed as a kind, caring, and family-focused woman in the victim impact statements read or submitted by ten of her relatives. Some relatives also accused Miller and Goodale of indirectly causing the recent death of Graber’s husband, who delayed cancer treatment due to depression stemming from the murder.

Graber’s brother-in-law, Jim Graber, while addressing Miller, said, “I hope you turn to the lord and seek forgiveness there first, as you are on a direct path to damnation.”

On November 2, 2021, Miller and Goodale took Graber’s life in the park where she regularly walked after school. Prosecutors claimed that the teens, then aged 16, harbored resentment towards Graber over a poor grade she had given Miller.

Under Goodale’s plea agreement, a sentence ranging from 25 years to life with parole possibility had been suggested by the prosecution. The hearing for Goodale’s sentencing is set for August, although his attorneys have requested a postponement.

The Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield was the venue for Thursday’s sentencing hearing. The hearing initially focused on testimony from investigators about the discovery of Graber’s body, social media posts that raised suspicion, and the subsequent arrests of Miller and Goodale. The prosecution also presented recordings of the police interviews with the two teens and photographs of the crime scene, including disturbing images of Graber’s body.

Agent Trent Vileta from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation recalled discovering Graber’s body, concealed under a tarp in Chautauqua Park, obscured by a wheelbarrow and a railroad tie. Only a shoe and a hand were visible.

On revealing a portion of the tarp, Vileta reported that a major head wound appeared to be Graber’s only significant injury.

In the interview, Miller initially denied any knowledge of Graber’s disappearance but later claimed to have witnessed others moving her body in the park.

Goodale had previously testified that the two teens had conspired to commit the murder over a two-week period, and both had physically attacked the victim before hiding her body. He alleged Miller was the initiator of the plot. Miller confessed to assisting but denied directly attacking Graber.

As they were charged as adults, the teens were not subject to a mandatory life sentence without parole for first-degree murder due to their age. Miller is currently 17, and Goodale is 18.

Fairfield, a town with a population of approximately 9,400, is situated about 100 miles southeast of Des Moines.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Iowa Teen Sentencing

What crime was Willard Miller sentenced for?

Willard Miller was sentenced for the murder of his high school Spanish teacher, Nohema Graber.

How long was the sentence given to Willard Miller?

Willard Miller received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 35 years.

Where and when did the crime occur?

The crime occurred on November 2, 2021, in a park in Fairfield, Iowa where the teacher usually took her afternoon walks.

What was the role of Jeremy Goodale in this crime?

Jeremy Goodale was a co-defendant in the case. He, along with Miller, had planned and executed the murder of Nohema Graber. His sentencing will follow Miller’s.

What was the motive behind the murder?

According to prosecutors, the teenagers held a grudge against their teacher, Nohema Graber, over a poor grade she had given to Miller.

What was the condition of parole recommended by the prosecutors for Goodale?

The prosecutors had recommended a sentence for Goodale between 25 years and life with the possibility of parole.

How has the crime impacted the community and the victim’s family?

The crime has had a significant impact on the community and the victim’s family. Several family members even attribute the death of Graber’s husband, who delayed cancer treatment due to depression over the murder, to the traumatic event.

More about Iowa Teen Sentencing

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MomofThree July 7, 2023 - 8:54 am

This is a nightmare, my heart goes out to Graber’s family. She was just doing her job…

DesMoinesDad July 7, 2023 - 8:55 am

Jeez, really hits you hard as a parent. How do you even begin to understand something like this…

TeacherTara July 7, 2023 - 10:15 pm

As a teacher, this is my worst fear. RIP Nohema, u didn’t deserve this.

EduActivist July 8, 2023 - 1:49 am

Let’s not forget that our education system failed these kids too. No excusing murder, but there are always underlying issues. We gotta do better.

Jake91 July 8, 2023 - 3:10 am

can’t believe what I’m reading, these kids are way outta line. What were they thinking?

LawMan July 8, 2023 - 3:30 am

Justice served, at least partially. But what about Goodale? He played a part too, shouldn’t he get same sentence?

IowaGirl1980 July 8, 2023 - 3:57 am

a terrible thing to happen in our little town…we’ll never forget you, Mrs. Graber.


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