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2 teens plead guilty to fatally beating their Spanish teacher over a bad grade

In a police interview, Willard Miller described the frustrations he had with how Nohema Graber, 66, taught Spanish and how his grade in her class was lowering his GPA at Fairfield High School.
/ Source: Associated Press

Two Iowa teenagers charged in the beating death of a high school teacher pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Tuesday.

Willard Miller and Jeremy Goodale both changed their pleas to guilty Tuesday and admitted helping kill Nohema Graber, 66, their Spanish teacher at Fairfield High School. Investigators said the attack was possibly regarding a dispute over grades in Graber’s class.

Nohema Graber.
Nohema Graber.via Facebook

Prosecutors say the evidence shows both Miller and Goodale struck Graber with a bat. Miller admitted helping plan and carry out the killing but has denied ever hitting Graber.

The teacher’s body was found in a Fairfield park in November 2021 hidden under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties. The town of Fairfield is home to some 9,400 people and is around 100 miles southeast of Des Moines.

Prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence between 30 years and life in prison with the possibility of parole as part of an agreement with Miller. Prosecutors said they would recommend a sentence between 25 years and life with the possibility of parole for Goodale.

Goodale previously agreed to testify against Miller at his trial, which was expected to begin later this week.

Goodale and Miller were both 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 at the time Graber was killed. Willard is now 17 and Goodale is 18.

Willard Miller is led into a courtroom in Fairfield, Iowa, March 29, 2023.
Willard Miller is led into a courtroom in Fairfield, Iowa, March 29, 2023.Kyle Ocker / The Ottumwa Courier via AP file

Investigators have said that Miller met with Graber at Fairfield 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 daily walks after school, 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 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.

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