Iowa teen convicted of beating Spanish teacher to death gets life in prison: ‘I wish I could go back and stop myself’

An Iowa teenager convicted in 2021 that beat a high school Spanish teacher to death was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years.

A judge convicted Jeremy Goodale for his role in the murder Nohema Graber, a 66-year-old teacher at Fairfield High School. Goodale, 18, and a friend pleaded guilty earlier this year to first-degree murder in Graber’s death.

The two high school students used a bat to kill Graber after stalking her as she took her daily walk in a large park in Fairfield, a small town in Iowa about 100 miles southeast of Des Moines.

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

“I’m sorry, really 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.”

After speaking and still crying, Goodale’s nose began to pour blood for several minutes before the hearing was suspended, CBS affiliate KCCI-TV reported.

Jeremy Goodale cries as he listens to his sister Jacqueline read a tribute he wrote about her as she testified at his sentencing hearing at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fairfield, Iowa, on Nov. 14, 2023.

Jim Slosiarek/AP

Prosecutors said Goodale and his friend Willard Miller, both 16 at the time, decided to kill Graber because of a bad grade she had given Miller. Prosecutors have said Miller first suggested the two kill Graber after becoming concerned that his bad grades would prevent him from attending a study abroad program.

Judge Shawn Showers cruised through 25 factors he had to consider before handing down his life sentence with a minimum of 25 years. He said it was clear Goodale was remorseful and didn’t consider the consequences of killing Graber, but Showers noted the teenager is a smart person who could have easily prevented it from being carried out.

The judge’s ruling was consistent with a requested sentence by the prosecution. Goodale’s attorney had said he should be sentenced to life without a mandatory minimum sentence before he is eligible for parole.

The two students were charged as adults, but because of their age, they were not subject to an Iowa requirement that those convicted of first-degree murder serve a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

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

Goodale and Miller pleaded guilty in April to killing Graber. After killing Graber, they used a wheelbarrow to move her body to a location near railroad tracks, where they covered it with a tarp and placed the wheelbarrow and a railroad tie over the tarp.

Graber was born in Xalapa, Mexico. After graduating from high school, she worked as a flight attendant and later earned her certificate as a commercial airline pilot. After her marriage, she moved to Fairfield in 1992 and later earned a teaching certificate. She had worked at Fairfield High School since 2012. Her husband, Paul Graber, died of cancer after his wife’s death. The couple had three children.

Before Goodale was sentenced, 10 members of Graber’s family gave victim impact statements or had statements read by a court official. During these statements, Goodale appeared to struggle to keep her composure and hold back tears.

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

Nohema Graber

Fairfield High School

“I have to say that your actions to me undermine that,” Graber said. “You are now an adult. You are over the age of 18 and yet you have your counsel representing you … arguing on your behalf to escape punishment for this horrific crime. That does not sound like remorse to me.”

KCCI-TV reported that Graber added, “Murdering a teacher to avoid an F, apparently that was enough for you to go along with the crime.”

In making his ruling, Judge Showers said he believed Goodale was more likely to rehabilitate than his co-defendant, Miller, because of his cooperation and sincerity, KCCI-TV reported.

“I wish you the best of luck, Mr. Goodale, and I hope everyone in this room can heal as well,” Showers said.

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