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Fairfield teens plead not guilty to charges in killing of high school Spanish teacher

The Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield, IA.
Kate Payne / IPR
The Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield

The two teenagers accused of killing a high school Spanish teacher in Fairfield earlier this month have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Jeremy Goodale and Willard Miller, both 16 years old, each face counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit a forcible felony.

Goodale and Miller filed written arraignments to enter their not guilty pleas, opting against appearing in open court. They’re accused of what prosecutors say was the brutal murder of 66-year-old Nohema Graber, who taught Spanish at Fairfield High, where the boys were students.

Investigators say that the teens plotted and carried out her murder, using social media to discuss details of their plans and a potential motive. According to criminal complaints in the case, Graber’s body was found concealed under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties at Fairfield’s Chautauqua Park, where she was known to take walks. Graber had suffered “inflicted trauma to the head," according to investigators. Officials have not said what the motive was for killing her.

Graber’s murder has shocked the city where she is being remembered as a devoted educator and a beloved member of the local Latino community. A native of Xalapa, Mexico, Graber made a home in Fairfield with her husband and their three kids, who are now grown. (The couple later divorced but remained close, according to the Des Moines Register.)

Loved ones say Graber lit up the classroom with her passion for teaching and her pride in her Mexican heritage. She was a fixture at family gatherings and celebrations, singing and dancing to Latin music. She was also a devout Catholic who often prayed for her students, according friends.

Last week, attorneys for Goodale and Miller petitioned Judge Joel Yates to release them ahead of trial, arguing that prolonged detention can have lasting impacts on juveniles and saying their clients would adhere to a range of release conditions, including GPS monitoring, video surveillance and family supervision.

Prosecutors argued the teens’ pretrial detention is a matter of public safety and countered that their families are incapable of adequately monitoring them, as the crime was committed while they lived at home.

Yates is expected to issue a written ruling this week on whether the teens should be released and under what conditions. They’re currently both being held on a $1 million cash-only bail.

According to court filings, the teens are slated to be back in court for a pretrial conference on March 21. A jury trial is scheduled to begin April 19.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter