FAIRFIELD, Iowa (Court TV) – An Iowa teen was sentenced to spend life behind bars with a chance of parole after 25 years after he and his friend admitted to killing a high school Spanish teacher in separate plea deals.
The two former Fairfield High School students learned they would be tried as adults after a May ruling by the judge to reject individual offers to move their cases to juvenile court. Days before jury selection, Miller pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 35 years – 5 years more than prosecutors had asked for.
Judge Shawn Showers, who presided over Miller’s sentencing, referenced the other teen on the second day of Goodale’s hearing as he delivered the sentencing. Showers said that while he felt that Goodale is a much better candidate for rehabilitation than Miller was, he was not comfortable not setting a minimum sentence, instead arguing that judges are in a better position to determine sentences in criminal cases.
Goodale, now 18, who was expected to testify against Miller at trial, also pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a separate plea agreement.
Both teens had confessed to a plot to ambush Graber while she was taking her daily walk, beat her to death with a baseball bat and then hide her body, but have conflicting statements about who did the physical beating.
At Miller’s change-of-plea hearing in April, Miller admitted that he had stood lookout in the park while Goodale fatally beat the 66-year-old Spanish teacher who gave Miller a failing grade and hurt his chance to study abroad. Miller denied ever striking Graber.
Goodale, on the other hand, contends Chaiden brought the bat and other supplies and that he was the one posted as a lookout while Chaiden hit Graber in the back of her head with the bat, then both boys moved her off the trail, where Goodale says he made the final, fatal blow.
The disappearance of the 66-year-old married mother of three and active church member sparked a community-wide search that led to her battered body under a wheelbarrow in a Fairfield park where she took daily walks.
At Miller’s sentencing hearing in Jefferson County Circuit Court, Judge Shawn Showers said the teenager’s decision to spare the community a trial with a guilty plea weighed in his favor. Nevertheless, the judge went above the prosecutors’ recommendation, saying the cold-blooded, premeditated nature of Graber’s death and its impact on her family and the community called for a lengthy minimum sentence of 35 years — even though juveniles in Iowa are not required to serve mandatory minimum sentences.
At Goodale’s sentencing on Nov. 15, Nohema’s son, Christian, delivered a victim impact statement in which he told Goodale that he forgave him and believed in him.
Court TV field producer Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.