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Fairfield teens plead guilty to killing Spanish teacher

Willard Miller pleads guilty in the 2021 murder of Fairfield Spanish teacher Nohema Graber at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield, Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Zach Boyden-Holmes
/
Des Moines Register pool photo
Willard Miller pleads guilty Tuesday in the 2021 murder of Fairfield Spanish teacher Nohema Graber at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield.

Two teenagers accused of killing Fairfield Spanish teacher Nohema Graber have reached agreements with prosecutors and are now pleading guilty to first degree murder.

Willard Miller and Jeremy Goodale changed their pleas Tuesday morning at hearings in a Jefferson County courtroom.

Miller and Goodale were both 16-years-old on Nov. 2, 2021 when prosecutors say they attacked Graber with a baseball bat over a bad grade. Miller was set to go on trial for the crime next week, but learned last month that Goodale was set to testify against him.

Graber, 66, was a beloved high school teacher and an active member of her Catholic church as well as the local Latino community.

As part of his plea, Miller said he agreed to help plan her murder and serve as a lookout for Goodale. He denies striking Graber with the bat himself as prosecutors claim. However, Goodale said in his plea hearing that it was Miller who initiated the plan and brought a baseball bat to Chautauqua Park where Graber often took walks.

"After he had struck Nohema Graber, we then moved her off of the trail where I then struck her and she died as a result," Goodale said.

A sentencing date has not been set. Assistant attorney general Scott Brown said prosecutors will recommend a minimum of 25 years and a maximum of life in prison with the possibility of parole for Goodale. For Miller, they are recommending 30 years to life with the possibility of parole.

Since they were juveniles at the time of Graber’s murder they are not subject to a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa