Iowa teens killed Spanish teacher over bad grades, prosecutors say

DES MOINES, Iowa — Two Iowa teenagers killed their high school Spanish teacher last year out of frustration over poor grades, prosecutors said Tuesday in court documents that reveal for the first time a possible motive.

The documents were filed ahead of a hearing Wednesday, where a judge will hear arguments on whether any evidence against Willard Miller and Jeremy Goodale should be withheld. who are accused of murdering Fairfield Township high school Spanish teacher Nohema Graber.

In those documents, the state lays out the evidence that led them to request a search warrant. Prosecutors say the most damning of that evidence are images of Snapchat messages sent by Miller to friends in which he confesses to the murder.

Lawyer for Miller is asking a Fairfield court to invalidate four search warrants and suppress evidence from Miller’s home, comments he made to police and information taken from his cell phone and Snapchat.

Graber’s body was found in Fairfield Park on November 3, 2021, hidden under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties. She was beaten to death by a baseball bat. Miller and Goodale was 16 at the time.

Fairfield is a city of about 9,400 people located approximately 100 miles (159 kilometers) from Des Moines.

Investigators found that Miller met with Graber at Fairfield High School on the afternoon of Nov. 2, 2021, to discuss his failing grade in her class. Graber later drove her van to a park where she was known to take daily walks after school, authorities said. Witnesses saw her van leaving the park less than an hour later with two men in the front seat.

The van was left at the end of the country road. After receiving a phone call from Goodale, a witness later picked up Goodale and Miller as they walked into town on that road, investigators said.

In an interview with police, Miller described his frustration with the way Graber taught Spanish and how grading her class lowered his GPA.

“Bad grades are believed to be the motive behind Graber’s murder, which directly implicates Miller,” according to court documents filed by Jefferson County District Attorney Chauncey Molding and Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown.

Miller initially denied any involvement in Graber’s disappearance, but “later stated that he knew about everything but was not involved,” according to court documents. He told police that the real killers – “a roving group of masked kids” – forced him to give up his wheelbarrow to help move her body and drive her van out of the park.

The documents say a witness provided photos of the Snapchat conversation “which identify Goodale’s admission that he acted in concert with another person to cause Graber’s death.” A witness identified Goodale as the man who made the statements implicating both Goodale and Miller.

Miller’s attorney, Christine Branstad, says the search warrants were issued illegally, in part because “law enforcement failed to provide information to the magistrate who issued the document to show that the informant was credible or that the information from the informant should be considered credible “.

Miller’s trial is set for March 20 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Goodale’s trial is scheduled for December 5 in Davenport, Iowa.

Both teenagers, now 17, will be tried as adults. In Iowa, the penalty for first degree murder is life in prison. Iowa Supreme Court rulings require juveniles convicted of even the most serious crimes get a chance at parole.

The The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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