© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Teen accused of killing his teacher asks for evidence to be thrown out

Willard Miller sits next to his attorney Nathan Olson during a hearing Wednesday at the Jefferson County courthouse in Fairfield Wednesday.
Zach Boyden-Holmes
Des Moines Register pool photo
Willard Miller sits next to his attorney Nathan Olson during a hearing Wednesday at the Jefferson County courthouse in Fairfield.

An attorney for Willard Chaiden Miller is challenging evidence gathered in the investigation into the murder of Fairfield Spanish teacher Nohema Graber.

One of the Fairfield teens charged in the death of Spanish teacher Nohema Graber is asking to have evidence in the case thrown out.

In a court hearing held in a Jefferson County courtroom Wednesday, the mother of Willard Chaiden Miller said she never knew he was a murder suspect when she agreed that he could be interviewed by police.

Defense attorney Nathan Olson argued that any evidence discovered through Miller’s questioning should be suppressed when the case goes to trial.

Miller and Jeremy Goodale were both 16-years-old when Graber was killed one year ago. Both are charged as adults in her death.

Graber, a beloved Spanish teacher at Fairfield High School, was found dead in Chautauqua Park. Authorities later said her body had been hidden after she was beaten to death with a baseball bat.

In court documents filed this week, prosecutors indicated that Miller is alleged to have attacked Graber over a bad grade in his Spanish class, and met with Graber to discuss it on the afternoon of the day she was killed. Miller denied that he was involved in her disappearance but claimed he was forced by others to help move her body.

Defense lawyers argue that evidence taken from Miller’s home — including a phone and computer — as well as cell phone and Snapchat account records should all be suppressed because investigators misled Miller’s mother in order to convince her to sign a permission form.

Annalisa Clifford Gold, mother of Willard Miller speaks during a hearing for her son at the Jefferson County courthouse in Fairfield, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022.
Zach Boyden-Holmes
Des Moines Register pool photo
Annalisa Clifford Gold, mother of Willard Miller speaks during a hearing for her son on Wednesday.

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Agents arrived at Miller’s home at 5:30 in the morning on Nov. 4, 2021 to take him in for questioning, according to testimony from Miller’s mother Annalisa Clifford Gold. She was told they wanted to question her son along with a roomful of Graber’s students. She was not told that he was a suspect in her murder.

“Before you signed that form were you told that Chaiden was a suspect in any crime?” asked defense attorney Nathan Olson. “No,” Clifford Gold said. “Before you signed that form were you even told that there had been a homicide?” he asked. “No,” she said.

Clifford Gold said she signed a waiver form that is meant to demonstrate that the parent of a juvenile defendant knows why police want to talk to their child. But she said she believed police were still investigating Graber’s disappearance, not her death.

“Would you have granted permission if you knew?” Olson asked. “Not without a lawyer present,” Clifford Gold said.

Clifford Gold said she asked for the interview to end at 7:15 a.m., but was not allowed to talk to Miller. DCI Agent Ryan Kedley testified that the interrogation officially ended around 9 a.m.

Prosecutors argued in the hearing that, in cases involving allegations such as murder, waiver forms meant to protect juveniles do not apply for defendants over 16 years old as Miller was at the time.

“Whether or not his mother wanted to talk to him, whether or not she tried to get in the room or told the officers to terminate (the interrogation) makes no difference in this circumstance because of the nature of the offenses that are being investigated by the police,” said Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown. “He is treated as an adult. That’s the way it works.”

Brown said Miller signed a form that showed agents had explained his Miranda rights before his questioning. Agent Kedley described Miller as “remarkably calm” during his interview with officers.

Judge Shawn Showers did not immediately rule on whether the evidence will stay or go.

Miller’s case is set to go to trial in March and will take place in Council Bluffs.

Goodale was set to stand trial next month in Davenport, but his attorney has requested a later date. The trial has not been rescheduled, but prosecutors have not opposed the request.