The first of two Iowa teenagers whoto beating their high school Spanish teacher to death was sentenced Thursday to life with a possibility of parole after 35 years in prison.
A judge sentenced Willard Miller after a sentencing hearing that lasted more than seven hours.
Miller and another teen, Jeremy Goodale, had pleaded guilty in April to the 2021 attack on Nohema Graber. The 66-year-old teacher was fatally beaten while taking her regular afternoon walk in a park in Fairfield.
“I will not gloss over the fact that you and Mr. Goodall cut Nohema Graber’s precious life short,” Judge Shawn Showers said as he sentenced Miller.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors had recommended Miller receive a term of between 30 years and life in prison, with the possibility of parole. Goodale is to be sentenced later.
Before being sentenced, Miller said in court Thursday that he accepted responsibility for the killing and apologized to the Graber family.
“I would like to apologize for my actions, first and foremost to the family,” he said. “I am sincerely sorry for the distress I have caused you and the devastation I have caused your family.”
Miller and Goodale killed Graber on Nov. 2, 2021, in a park where the teacher routinely walked after school. Prosecutors said the teens, who were 16 at the time, were angry at Graber because of a.
Under Goodale’s agreement to plead guilty, prosecutors had recommended a sentence of between 25 years and life with the possibility of parole. Goodale’s sentencing is scheduled for August, but his lawyers have sought a delay in the hearing.
Thursday’s sentencing hearing at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield initially focused on investigators who described how officers found Graber’s body. They also talked about social media postings that led them to question and then arrest Miller and Goodale. Prosecutors also played recordings of police interviews with both teens and displayed photographs of the crime scene, including graphic images of Graber’s body.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent Trent Vileta recalled police finding Graber’s body under a tarp in Chautauqua Park. A wheelbarrow and railroad tie had been placed over the tarp, making it hard to see the body, with only a shoe and a hand visible.
After pulling back part of the tarp, Vileta said the only significant injury to Graber appeared to be a severe head wound.
In the interview, Miller initially said he knew nothing about Graber’s disappearance but later said he saw other people carrying her body in the park.
Miller eventually told authorities he had been in the park at the time of the murder, provided “materials utilized in committing the murder” and helped conceal the crime, court documents said. He did not admit to killing Graber at the time.
Investigators were also given social media messages between Miller and Goodal in which the two discussed specific details of the crime.
“The details included, but were not limited to, the motive for killing Graber, the planning and execution of the means to kill Graber, as well as deliberate attempts to conceal the crime,” court documents said.
earlier 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. Goodale said Miller had initiated the plan. Miller admitted helping but denied hitting Graber.
The two were charged as adults, but because of their age, they were not subject to a mandatory sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. Miller is now 17 and Goodale is 18.
Fairfield, a city of 9,400 people, is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Des Moines.