By William Morris, Des Moines Register
Allowing two teens accused of murdering their Spanish teacher in Fairfield to be tried in juvenile court and potentially be free by age 18 would send a signal that no teacher in the country is safe, prosecutors said Thursday.
Jeremy Goodale, now 17, is charged along with 16-year-old Willard Miller in the November 2021 murder of Fairfield High School teacher Nohema Graber. Both, charged as adults, are seeking to move their cases to the juvenile court system, which in effect would end the court’s jurisdiction over them, innocent or delinquent, once they reach age 18.
Goodale’s hearing Thursday was the first before a judge. Jefferson County Attorney Chauncy Moulding argued against moving Goodale’s case, saying removing it from adult court would have “societal implications.”
“If two boys who are shown to have committed this act are adjudicated in the juvenile court system … and the consequence for those considerations and acts is 18 months of incarceration in the juvenile system and then release without supervision, if that’s what the punishment and rehabilitation and programming is for such a heinous act, it will be open season on teachers in this country,” Moulding said.
Defense attorney Allen Cook argued that modern brain science shows there therapy and other interventions can help Goodale. Those opportunities will do the most good for him now, as opposed to potentially decades down the line if he serves a prison sentence as an adult, Cook said.
“There is no rehabilitation component in the state’s position, your Honor, only punishment,” said Cook, who had sought unsuccessfully to exclude the media and public from the hearing. “… The state’s position robs Jeremy of any meaningful chance at rehabilitation, projecting it far off in the future to a time when Jeremy will be a hardened adult in the adult correction system.”
Although Iowa law permits juveniles charged as adults to seek a “reverse waiver” to move their case to juvenile court, neither the defense nor the prosecutors were aware of a first-degree case in which such a motion has succeeded.
Still, Goodale and Miller are making the attempt. Iowa City psychologist Dr. Brenda Payne, who examined Goodale, testified Thursday that she diagnosed him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and that he could benefit from treatment and therapy.
“Of course, it would be better for him to take advantage of those types of programs now rather than far in the future,” she said.
But Payne also admitted she is not familiar with the specific programs available in the juvenile court system. Karen Demmler, a state juvenile court officer, testified that there are no programs suitable for someone facing such serious charges, especially on such a limited timeline.
“Our treatment programs are not set up to work with such a serious offense,” she said.
Moulding spoke harshly and at times sarcastically as he argued against allowing Goodale to be tried as a juvenile, accusing the defense of discounting the seriousness of the crime and suggesting that Payne “is providing the opinion she was hired to provide.”
The defense stressed Goodale’s ADHD diagnosis and impulsive tendencies as issues that would benefit from treatment through the juvenile system. But Moulding contended the diagnosis is at odds with evidence that the two teens allegedly spent considerable time stalking Graber and learning her routine before attacking her.
Search warrant documents unsealed in March said the two beat her to death with a baseball bat, then tried to hide her body in a park.
“I don’t think there’s any evidence the ADHD is what caused the alleged actions that led us here today,” Moulding said.
Judge Shawn Showers said he will issue a written decision. Showers will hear similar arguments May 6 for Miller, the other teen.
From November:’Overwhelmed by grief,’ hundreds gather outside Fairfield High School to honor slain teacher at candlelight vigil
William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at [email protected], 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.