Sentencing: Iowa v. Willard Chaiden Miller – Bad Grade Murder Case

Posted at 5:32 PM, July 6, 2023 and last updated 5:44 PM, July 6, 2023

FAIRFIELD, Iowa (Court TV) – An Iowa teenager was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 35 years for his role in the brutal killing of his high school Spanish teacher.

Willard Miller (L) and Jeremy Goodale (R) appear in court

Willard Miller (L) and Jeremy Goodale (R) appear in court Tuesday, April 18, 2023 to plead guilty to the first-degree murder of Spanish teacher Nohema Graber. (Court TV)

Willard Chaiden Miller and Jeremy Goodale were 16 years old when they murdered Nohema Graber, 66, on Nov. 2, 2021. Just days before jury selection was set to begin in his criminal trial, Miller pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Miller admitted in his change-of-plea hearing in April to plotting Graber’s death with Goodale and standing lookout in the park as Goodale beat Graber. Miller denied striking Graber. In exchange for Miller’s guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a conspiracy charge and recommend a sentence of 30 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Miller’s lawyers – who unsuccessfully argued in pretrial that Miller should have been tried as a juvenile – indicated they believe Miller is still entitled to leniency because of his age and may argue for deferred judgment (probation).
Judge Shawn Showers is not bound to the terms of the agreement and could sentence Miller to life without the possibility of parole, Iowa’s mandatory sentence for adults convicted of first-degree murder.

WATCH: Willard Miller Pleads Guilty to Killing Teacher

Goodale also pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a separate plea agreement. Goodale’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 23, 2023, when prosecutors are expected to recommend a sentence of 25 years to life with the possibility of parole.

Nohema Graber missing person photo

This photo provided by the City of Fairfield, Iowa Government shows Nohema Graber. Two teenagers are being charged as adults in the death of Nohema Graber, a Fairfield High School teacher, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office said, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. (City of Fairfiled, Iowa Government)

Graber’s beaten body was found hidden under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties at a local park where she took daily walks, according to an affidavit. Investigators say she was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Her van was found abandoned on a rural road.

Witnesses told investigators they saw two males driving away in Graber’s van less than an hour after she arrived to the park. Another witness told police they later picked up Goodale and Miller on the road where the van was found. Social media messages also implicated the teens in Graber’s death, states an affidavit.

In a police interview before the teen pleaded guilty, Miller told investigators he was frustrated with the way Graber taught Spanish and how the grade in her class was lowering his GPA. Both teens were charged as adults with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit forcible felony.

Their trials were severed after a judge granted a motion filed by Miller’s attorneys. Due to pre-trial publicity, a judge also granted Miller’s request for a change of venue.

In May 2022, the teens learned they would be tried as adults, after a judge rejected individual offers to move their cases to juvenile court.

In March, prosecutors announced Goodale had agreed to testify against Miller, reported The Des Moines Register. Prosecutor Chauncey Moulding told the court, “Mr. Goodale has turned state’s evidence and is listed as a witness against Miller.”

Beth Hemphill, Ivy Brown and Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this reporting.