One of the two Iowa teens who bashed their high school Spanish teacher to death with a baseball bat over a bad grade was sentenced Thursday to life in prison.
Willard Miller, 17, could be eligible for parole after 35 years behind bars for the vicious murder of 66-year-old Nohema Graber in 2021.
Miller stared ahead with little emotion as District Judge Shawn Showers handed down the hefty sentence, noting that it was fitting despite Miller’s young age because 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. There is no excuse. There is not a systemic, societal problem that explains or justifies your actions,” Showers said.
Before being sentenced, Miller accepted responsibility for killing Graber along with friend Jeremy Goodale while the teacher took her regular afternoon walk in Fairfield Park.
Miller apologized to her family, as well as his own and Goodale’s loved ones.
“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.”
“I’m realizing just the magnitude of my actions, and I know it’s wrong, and I knew it was wrong, and yet I still carried through. I still did what I did, and I accept responsibility for that.”
Miller, who was 16 at the time of the murder, pleaded guilty to the crime in April as part of a deal that would land him a prison term of between 30 years and life.
Showers recommended the life sentence with the possibility of parole after 35 years following 10 victim impact statements read by Graber’s family.
Several blamed the teenagers for the recent death of Graber’s husband, who had cancer but delayed treatment amid his depression over the murder.
“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,” Graber’s brother-in-law, Jim Graber, said while staring at Miller.
Investigators said Miller had met with Graber the afternoon of the killing to discuss a poor grade she had given him in her Spanish class.
At that time, Miller had already been conspiring for two weeks with Goodale, who was also 16 at the time, to ambush Graber and attack her with the baseball bat.
The teens, however, turned against each other after they were arrested.
Miller admitted to helping carry out the plan but has maintained he never struck Graber.
Goodale, 18, testified against Miller, claiming he initiated the plan, supplied the baseball bat and had a clear intent to kill.
Graber’s body — which suffered severe head trauma — was found under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties in the park in Fairfield, a town of about 9,400 about 100 miles southeast of Des Moines.
The boys later took to social media to brag about the killing, investigators said.
As part of a plea that required Goodale to admit to the murder and testify against Miller, prosecutors had recommended a sentence of between 25 years and life with the possibility of parole.