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Fairfield teenagers accused of killing Nohema Graber ask for lower bail while prosecutors argue to raise it

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Kate Payne / IPR
Friends, colleagues and students of slain Fairfield High School Spanish teacher Nohema Graber built an ofrenda to honor her at the city's public library. Investigators believe two high school students murdered the 66 year old, who is remembered as a devoted educator and a beloved leader of the local Latino community.

The two teenagers charged with killing a high school Spanish teacher in Fairfield were back in court Tuesday, requesting to be released ahead of trial. Attorneys for the students argued GPS monitoring and other release conditions would be sufficient to ensure they report to future court hearings. Prosecutors countered their pretrial detention is a matter of public safety.

Jeremy Goodale and Willard Miller, both 16 years old, are each being held on a $1 million, cash-only bond, on charges of killing Nohema Graber.

Each face counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit a forcible felony in the murder of Graber, a beloved 66-year-old Spanish teacher who taught at Fairfield High School, where both students were enrolled.

In two separate hearings at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Tuesday, attorneys for the teens argued that the cash-only bond is excessive, requesting that Judge Joel Yates release their clients ahead of trial or reduce the bail amount.

Goodale’s attorney Nicole Jensen argued that her client doesn’t have the means to be a flight risk.

“He doesn’t even have a driver’s license. Even if he wanted to, he has no ability to flee from prosecution in this case,” Jensen said. “A million dollar cash-only bond, judge, is just so far unattainable, that it essentially amounts to pre-trial detention without a bond.”

Christine Branstad, who is representing Miller, pointed to legal research documenting the negative impact that detention can have on children.

“Even a short time in detention and taken away from family can have a detrimental effect on a juvenile,” Branstad said. “There is a real risk of a detriment to a juvenile who is very abruptly detained. And in a case like this, where there is a possibility that this could be a prolonged period of time before trial.”

Investigators say that Goodale and Miller conspired to murder Graber, plotting the crime and discussing a possible motive on social media. Graber’s body was found at Fairfield’s Chautauqua Park, where she was known to take regular walks. According to a criminal complaint, Graber’s body was hidden under a tarp, a wheelbarrow and railroad ties and she had suffered “inflicted trauma to the head."

At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors argued the killing was brutal and premeditated.

“Number one, the investigation in this case has revealed that the defendant, along with the codefendant, has engaged in a extremely brutal murder of an innocent person,” said prosecutor Scott Brown, an assistant Iowa attorney general. “The act that caused Ms. Graber’s death, the treatment of her after her death, what appears to us to be also brutal.”

Defense attorneys argued for pretrial release terms which could include a range of conditions, such as GPS monitoring, round the clock monitoring by extended family, video surveillance, and restrictions on access to electronic devices.

“My clients’ parents and extended family are willing to ensure 24/7 monitoring, are willing to provide different residences at which he could live, are willing to restrict any access to electronics,” Branstad told the court.

Prosecutors meanwhile have argued that the families of the teens are not capable of monitoring them, as the crime was committed while they were living at home.

“A high bond in this case is appropriate based upon the circumstances. We would ask that you either maintain it as it currently is or in fact raise it another million dollars to two million with the same conditions,” Brown said.

Yates said he will review the issue and plans to issue written rulings next week.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter