Teen who killed teacher over bad grade is sentenced

US News

A teenager who beat his high school Spanish teacher to death with a baseball bat over a bad grade has been sentenced to life in prison.

Willard Miller, 17, pleaded guilty to first degree murder in April for his role in the November 2021 killing of Nohema Graber.

He and co-defendant, Jeremy Goodale, 18, attacked the 66-year-old while she was taking a routine afternoon walk in a park.

Prosecutors said the teenagers, who were 16 at the time but charged as adults, were angry at Ms Graber because of a bad grade she had given Miller.

The victim’s body was found under a tarpaulin, a wheelbarrow, and railroad ties at the Chautauqua Park in Fairfield, about 95 miles southeast of Des Moines in Iowa.

Nohema Graber. Two teenagers are being charged as adults in the death of Nohema Graber, a Fairfield High School teacher. Pic: Fairfield Police Department via AP
Nohema Graber had been on an afternoon walk. Pic: Fairfield Police Department via AP

Sentencing Miller on Thursday, District Court Judge Shawn Showers told him he had “cut Nohema Graber’s precious life short”, devastating her family and the community.

“I find that your intent and actions were sinister and evil. Those acts resulted in the intentional loss of human life in a brutal fashion.”

Miller apologised to Ms Graber’s family and the community for the “distress” and “devastation” he had caused.

“I’m realising just the magnitude of my actions, and I know it’s wrong and I knew it was wrong and yet I still carried through,” he said.

“I still did what I did, and I accept responsibility for that.”

Willard Miller and Jeremy Goodale, both 16, are charged with murder in the death of Fairfield High School Spanish teacher Nohema Graber, 66. Pic: Fairfield Police Department via AP
Miller (left) and Jeremy Goodale, who will be sentenced in August. Pic: Fairfield Police Department via AP

Several of Ms Graber’s relatives either read or submitted victim impact statements that described her as kind, caring and devoted to her family, students and church.

Some also blamed Miller and Goodale for the recent death of her husband, who suffered from cancer but delayed treatment amid his depression over the murder.

Ms Graber’s brother-in-law, Jim Graber, was at Miller’s sentencing hearing which lasted more than seven hours.

“I hope you open your soul to the Lord and maybe ask for forgiveness there first because you’re on a spiral straight to hell,” he said, while staring at the defendant.

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Miller initially said he knew nothing about the teacher’s disappearance but later said he saw other people carrying her body in the park.

Goodale testified that he and Miller had planned the killing for about two weeks and that both of them struck the victim and then hid her body. He said Miller had initiated the plan. Miller admitted helping but denied hitting Graber.

Miller was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole only after serving at least 35 years behind bars.

Goodale, who also admitted the murder, will be sentenced in August.

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