Prosecutors said Goodale and Miller planned to kill Graber because Miller was failing Spanish class and the poor grade would prevent him from participating in a study abroad program. The two students stalked Graber as she walked through a park in Fairfield, Iowa, and used a bat to beat her to death. After Graber’s body was found hidden under a tarp and a wheelbarrow, the teens were arrested based on statements Goodale made to her friends on social media that were discovered by police.
«I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. What I have taken can never be replaced,” Goodale said through tears during the sentencing, according to the News21USA. “Every day I wish I could go back and stop, avoid this loss and this pain that I have caused everyone.”
Two teens charged with murder of high school Spanish teacher after police find messages on social media
Judge Shawn Showers explained the 25 factors he considered before handing down the life sentence. While the judge said Goodale needed “significant rehabilitation,” Showers noted that the teen had shown more remorse and accepted more responsibility for his actions than Miller and that Goodale agreed to testify against his friend if the case had gone to trial. The judge described Miller, now 18 and sentenced in July to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 35 years, as “much more sinister in his planning” to kill the teacher.
«Unlike your co-defendant, it is clear to me that you have repented for your role in Ms. Graber’s murder,» Showers told Goodale, according to the Des Moines Register. The judge added: «I think time will tell, but you are much more likely to succeed than Mr. Miller.»
The sentence was praised by Graber’s family, who emphasized that the teacher’s murder has devastated the family for the past two years. Relatives noted how Graber’s husband, Paul, died of cancer after his wife was murdered.
“I am very willing to clarify my thoughts about Jeremy Goodale and his co-defendant Willard Miller,” Barbara Graber, the teacher’s sister-in-law, wrote in a victim impact statement read Wednesday. “I am haunted by the last face Nohema saw on this earth, and the last words she heard were those of Mr. Goodale.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment early Thursday. Prosecutor Chauncey Molding told the Register that he was satisfied with the sentence and added that he believed Goodale showed remorse for the murder.
«I think Jeremy committed one of the most heinous acts we’ve seen in Jefferson County, but that doesn’t speak to who he can be with the right treatment and programming,» she said.
Nohema Graber moved from Mexico to Fairfield, a small Iowa town about 100 miles southeast of Des Moines, in 1992 and earned her teaching certificate. She had been teaching at Fairfield High School since 2012.
On the afternoon of Nov. 2, 2021, Miller met with Graber at school to discuss his poor performance in his class, according to court documents. Miller later admitted to authorities that he had become frustrated with the way Graber had taught him his Spanish class and how his GPA had suffered as a result.
That same day, Graber drove his truck to a park where he was known to walk every day, authorities said. That’s when Miller and Goodale followed her and beat her. Witnesses later saw his truck leaving the park with two men in the front seat, according to investigators.
While Miller initially denied any involvement in the teacher’s death, according to court documents, a witness provided authorities with photographs of a Snapchat conversation «that identify Goodale’s confessions that she acted in concert with another person to cause Graber’s death.» The messages described the motive for Graber’s murder, the planning and execution, and how the teens had tried to hide evidence, according to prosecutors. Goodale later told investigators that he wanted to help Miller kill Graber because of his friend’s poor Spanish grade.
Both teenagers were tried as adults. Showers said at Miller’s sentencing that he would have given him a mandatory life sentence, but Iowa law does not allow such sentences for juveniles.
During his sentencing, Goodale reiterated his remorse for what he had done.
“I know my words will never be enough. To Mrs. Graber and my entire family, I am so sorry,” Goodale said, according to KCCI, a CBS affiliate in Des Moines. «And, Dad, I’m sorry I let you down in so many ways.»
But some members of Graber’s family didn’t believe the teen truly felt remorse for killing his loved one.
“I have to say her actions toward me undermined that,” said Tom Graber, brother of the teacher’s husband. “You are an adult now. You are over 18 years old, and yet you have an attorney representing you…arguing on your behalf to escape punishment for this horrible crime. «That doesn’t seem like remorse to me.»
Others, however, said they had forgiven Goodale and hoped she could learn from her crime.
“I want you to know that I pray that you continue your journey to find God,” said Jim Graber, also the teacher’s brother-in-law, “and I pray for your safety and salvation.”