Willard Miller has admitted guilt in the 2021 murder of Nohema Graber, a Spanish teacher at Fairfield High School, marking the conclusion of a tragic case that deeply impacted Fairfield, a small city in southeast Iowa. The guilty pleas were entered at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield, where both Miller and his co-defendant, Jeremy Goodale, acknowledged their involvement in the first-degree murder.
The disturbing incident occurred in 2021 when Miller and Goodale, both 16 at the time, fatally attacked Graber in Chautauqua Park following a dispute over a poor grade. The community of Fairfield was left in shock by the brutal episode, mourning the loss of a respected teacher who had been a leader in the town’s growing Latino community.
Prosecutors revealed that evidence pointed to both Miller and Goodale ambushing Graber and assaulting her with a baseball bat during a walk in the park. While Miller admitted to participating in planning and executing the killing, he denied personally striking Graber. On the other hand, Goodale, now 18, testified that Miller initiated the plan, and both of them assaulted the teacher.
During his plea, according to Tv affiliate KCRG, Goodale stated, “On Nov. 2 of 2021, I met Willard Miller at Chautauqua Park, and I understood that he had intent to kill Mrs. Graber.” Goodale detailed how Miller brought a bat and other supplies for the murder, and after Miller’s initial strike, Goodale claimed to have also struck Graber, leading to her death. Following the assault, they attempted to remove any evidence.
Graber’s lifeless body was later discovered concealed under a tarp, wheelbarrow, and railroad ties in a Fairfield park. The victim’s van, with two males in the front seat, was seen leaving the park and was later found at the end of a rural road.
Nohema Graber, a Mexican-born teacher with a diverse background as a flight attendant and pilot, settled in Fairfield in the 1990s. Her family, present at the hearings, remembered her as a beloved figure in the community. The defendants’ later boasts about the killing on social media led to their arrest.
Miller is now recommended to receive a life sentence with parole eligibility after 30 years, while prosecutors suggest Goodale, who agreed to testify against Miller, be eligible for parole after 25 years.
According to The Daily Mail, Jefferson County Attorney Chauncey Moulding expressed satisfaction with the defendants taking responsibility for the crime, stating, “We’re glad the defendants have taken responsibility for the crime they committed and look forward to making sure justice is done at sentencing.”
Nohema Graber was days away from her 67th birthday when she was killed. Graber earned an English degree in 2006 and taught Spanish at Ottumwa High School before joining Fairfield High School in 2012.
The motive behind the murder was revealed almost a year after Graber’s death, with prosecutors stating that Miller was upset about his grade in her class.
The evidence presented included Snapchat messages allegedly implicating both teens, interviews, and search warrants for their homes and phone records. Goodale’s testimony played a crucial role, leading to his agreement to testify against Miller.
As they were minors at the time of the attack, they are not eligible for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
After the sentencing, Tom Graber, Nohema Graber’s ex-husband’s brother, expressed the family’s gratitude for the guilty pleas and the community’s support. The Fairfield community plans a second annual memorial walk for Graber to honor her memory, and raise funds for a scholarship fund in her name.