Iowa teen sentenced to life in prison for killing teacher over bad grade

Jeremy Goodale (left) talks with his defence co-counsel Nicole Jensen during his sentence hearing at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield, Iowa, on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette/Pool Photo via AP

An Iowa teen has been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years for beating his high school Spanish teacher to death with the help of a fellow classmate.

Jeremy Goodale, 18, was sentenced Wednesday for his part in killing Nohema Graber, a 66-year-old teacher at Fairfield High School. He carried out the murder with his friend Willard Miller when both students were just 16 years old. Both were charged as adults and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder earlier this year.

Prosecutors showed evidence at trial that Goodale and Miller sought to kill their high school teacher because of a bad grade she had given Miller. Goodale testified that they planned the killing for about two weeks after Miller recruited him to help.

In July, Miller was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years in prison.

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Willard Miller makes a statement during his sentence hearing at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield, Iowa, on Thursday, July 6, 2023. Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette via AP, Pool

Before being sentenced, Goodale apologized to the teacher’s family, the community and his own family.

“I’m sorry, truly sorry. What I’ve taken can never be replaced,” Goodale said, at times through sobs. “Every day I wish I could go back and stop myself, prevent this loss and this pain that I’ve caused everyone.”

Graber’s body was found in November 2021 in a park in the small town of Fairfield, located about 80 miles south of Cedar Rapids. She was discovered hidden under a tarp, a wheelbarrow and railroad ties. She had been beaten to death with a baseball bat.

Investigators found that Miller had met with Graber the day before at Fairfield High School to discuss his poor grade in her class. Afterwards, Graber drove her van to a park where she was known to take daily walks after school, authorities say.

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Witnesses saw her van leaving the park less than an hour later with two males in the front seat.

Goodale and Miller were initially detained by police after a witness came forward with screenshots of a Snapchat conversation in which Goodale allegedly implicated himself and Miller in the killing.

In a police interview, Miller described the frustrations he had with the way their teacher taught Spanish and over how his grade in her class was lowering his GPA.

“The poor grade is believed to be the motive behind the murder of Graber which directly connects Miller,” court documents filed by Jefferson County Attorney Chauncey Moulding and Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown said.

When Goodale entered his guilty plea he told the courts that he met Miller in the park that day with the understanding that Miller intended to kill Graber. Miller had “brought a bat among other supplies to go through with the murder,” he said.

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“After he had struck Nohema Graber, he then moved her off of the trail where I then struck her and she died as a result,” Goodale said. “Afterwards, we removed any evidence that we could.”

At his sentencing hearing, Judge Shawn Showers said it was clear Goodale was remorseful, but noted that the teen is a smart person who could easily have stopped the killing from being carried out.

Graber was born in Xalapa, Mexico. After graduating from high school, she worked as a flight attendant and later earned her licence as a commercial airline pilot. Following her marriage, she moved to Fairfield in 1992 and later got a teaching certificate. She had worked at Fairfield High School since 2012.

Graber’s husband, Paul, died of cancer after her death. The couple had three children.

Speaking before Goodale was sentenced, 10 members of Graber’s family gave victim impact statements or had statements read by a court official. During those statements, Goodale appeared to struggle to maintain his composure and hold back tears.

Tom Graber, the brother of the victim’s husband Paul, said the killing devastated their family and hastened his brother’s death. He said Goodale sounded and looked remorseful in his court statement, but he questioned the authenticity of those statements.

“I must say your actions to me undercut that,” Tom Graber said. “You’re now an adult. You’re over the age of 18, and yet you have your counsel to represent you … arguing on your behalf to escape punishment for this horrific crime. That doesn’t sound like remorse to me.”

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— With files from The Associated Press

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