Thursday, November 04, 2021

Two former Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment students charged with first degree murder

(Updated December 11, 2023 - both defendants have been sentenced to life in prison with minimums of 25 and 35 years.)

A school yearbook from 2013 contains photos of the two 16 year olds charged as adults with first degree murder, whose families are known to be part of the meditator community in Fairfield, Iowa. 

The Des Moines Register reports:

A southeast Iowa town is reeling after two high school students were charged with first-degree murder in the death of their Spanish teacher.

Police confirmed Thursday that human remains discovered Wednesday in Fairfield's Chautauqua Park were those of Nohema Graber, who had been reported missing earlier in the day, according to a news release from the city of Fairfield posted on Facebook.

Graber, 66, had taught Spanish at Fairfield High School since 2012. Police allege two students at the high school — Willard Noble Chaiden Miller, 16, and Jeremy Everett Goodale, 16 — are responsible for her death.

Both have been charged with first-degree homicide and first-degree conspiracy to commit homicide and will be charged as adults "based on the circumstances and their ages," according to the news release.

A Maharishi School yearbook from 2013 contains first or second grade photos of Miller and Goodale. According to those familiar with the meditating subculture there, the families of the alleged perpetrators are known to be part of that Fairfield community. 

The TM organization, and in recent years the David Lynch Foundation, have maintained that Transcendental Meditation, particularly when practiced in groups including in the classroom, results in an improved quality of life, decreased crime, lowered social strife, and increased prosperity. They have pointed to research studies, largely conducted by lifelong meditators and TM teachers loyal to Maharishi and his legacy, to support this dubious claim. Such assertions form the core marketing points of the so-called “Consciousness-Based Education” program offered by Maharishi International University (MIU), and the David Lynch Foundation’s attempts to market it; this program is nothing more than the practice of TM and its advanced versions by high school and college students.

Unfortunately, in real life, such promises do not often hold true. As I wrote over twelve years ago, in stark contrast to any not-yet-demonstrated effects that would support such TM marketing claims, murder, suicide, and crime are not unknown in Fairfield, particularly among meditators and MIU students. Fairfield’s crime rate, or its other social indicators, have never been markedly different than that of any other small midwestern town, other than those effects that could be attributed to an influx of relatively affluent, skilled people from other places.

It’s also reasonable to raise the question, whether the time demands placed on parents by the expectation of participating in the “group program” aspects of Transcendental Meditation, particularly group practice of the “TM-Sidhi” program in the MIU domes, is a contributing factor of the mental health difficulties some children of lifelong meditators experience. The ability to indulge in such habits, in which meditators bounce on foam rubber and practice mental techniques for hours each day, which are known to create debilitating levels of dissociation in some individuals, is one of the main reasons that many committed meditators migrated to Fairfield and MIU, often decades ago. This group “program” is believed by them to both intensify their personal experiences as well as being beneficial to the surrounding community and the planet, and they’re frequently told it’s the most important thing they can be doing with their time.

Each tragic incident of this nature casts more well deserved doubt on such flimsy claims. 

I’ll update this page with additional links to news coverage as this story develops.

Family members had reported Graber missing on Wednesday morning. Investigators searched places she went often in the Jefferson County town of less than 10,000 people, including Chautauqua City Park, just blocks east of the high school, where she often walked. Records show she was seen there Tuesday afternoon. Authorities discovered her body there Wednesday — concealed under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties, according to court documents. She had been hit on the head but the documents do not say what caused the trauma. A murder investigation quickly led to Goodale and Miller. Fairfield police interviewed “an associate” of the teens who “provided investigators with social media exchanges indicative of Goodale having specific details of the disappearance and subsequent death of Graber,” a criminal complaint shows. “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.” The complaint states that the associate also shared social media postings indicating Miller was present for the murder. Police did not disclose details of the social media exchanges, including what they said about a motive. Acting on search warrants, authorities say they also collected several clothing items from Goodale and Miller that appeared to contain blood. Investigators said they also talked with a witness who saw the two teens at the park on Tuesday afternoon. Police confronted Miller in an interview. “Miller admitted to being in Chautauqua City Park as the murder was taking place,” a criminal complaint states, “providing materials utilized in committing the murder, and aiding in actions taken to conceal the murder.”

November 5, 2021

Court documents:

Jeremy Goodale criminal complaint (PDF)

Willard Noble Chaiden Miller criminal complaint (PDF)

Des Moines Register: Nohema Graber, slain high school teacher and former pilot, was an 'an absolute angel', her family says

After graduating from high school, Graber became a flight attendant with the now-defunct Mexicana de Aviación, then her home country's oldest airline.

But she wasn't satisfied, so she did something wholly unexpected, Paul Graber said: She began to study to be a commercial airline pilot, paying her way through flight school to become one of the first women in Mexico to be licensed to fly passenger jets.

Law and Crime: Two 16-Year-Old Boys Charged with Murdering Spanish Teacher in Iowa - Includes mugshots of the arestees for those wanting visual confirmation.

A request for expanded news media coverage of both proceedings has been granted. Iowa Judicial Branch explanation of what that means - basically, video, audio and still photography by the news media will be allowed in the courtroom.

KCCI: Fairfield students say murdered teacher, student argued over grades

A couple of students told KCCI they heard an argument Tuesday afternoon about trying to get a grade up in Graber's class. Not long after that, police said that same student went to Chautauqua Park where Graber was known to go for walks.

November 12, 2021

Two southeast Iowa teenagers were formally charged Friday with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of a high school Spanish teacher, and a judge said there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

Prosecutors in Fairfield filed documents containing the charges against Willard Noble Chaiden Miller and Jeremy Everett Goodale, both 16. They are accused of killing Nohema Graber, a 66-year-old teacher at Fairfield High School, which both teens attended. Authorities have not said whether she taught either of the suspects nor have they revealed a possible motive.


November 29, 2021

Miller and Goodale, who are being held in juvenile detention centers, entered their pleas in arraignment documents filed with the court Monday. They waived their right to a speedy trial, meaning prosecutors wouldn't have to try them within 90 days of them being charged, and Judge Joel Yates scheduled the trial to begin April 19. He told lawyers to plan on a pretrial conference on March 21 to discuss issues involving evidence, trial length and jury selection method.

Last week, the teens' lawyers asked Yates to lower their bond so they could be released to their parents' supervision, saying they had no way to flee prosecution. Miller’s attorney, Christine Branstad, said research shows that detaining juveniles away from family for prolonged periods before trial can have a detrimental effect on them and stunt their development.

Prosecutors, though, called for the bonds to be kept at $1 million or even raised to $2 million. Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown said the “extremely brutal murder of an innocent person” justified keeping them the defendants in custody.

December 3, 2021

Bond will stay at $1 million cash only for two Fairfield juveniles accused by police of killing a high school Spanish teacher.

Judge Joel Yates, in a ruling filed Thursday afternoon but made public Friday, was not persuaded by arguments for lower bond amounts from defense attorneys for Jeremy Everett Goodale and Willard Noble Chaiden Miller. They are currently being held on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Both teens have pled not guilty.

During arguments last Tuesday, attorneys for the teens said the 16-year-olds would agree to monitoring and restrictions akin to being under house arrest if the bond was lowered. Citing financial restrictions and family ties to the area, attorneys assured the judge they weren't at risk of fleeing future hearings if released. Attorneys suggested bond be lowered so that the teens could bail out for $10,000.

December 9, 2021

Associated Press: Teen charged with teacher’s murder seek trial as juvenile

The attorney for an Iowa teenager charged as an adult with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the killing of his high school Spanish teacher has asked a judge to try the 16-year-old as a juvenile.

If convicted as a juvenile, Willard Miller could be released in less than 24 months, something prosecutors said would not serve the interests of the community or the suspect.

April 7, 2022

The Iowa Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear appeals from two Fairfield teens charged with a teacher's killing. The teens had sought the court's review of two adverse decisions.

In documents filed Thursday, the Iowa Supreme Court denied applications made by attorneys for Willard Noble Chaiden-Miller and Jeremy Everett Goodale for discretionary review and interlocutory appeal.

November 1, 2022

Two Iowa teenagers killed their high school Spanish teacher last year because of frustration over a bad grade, prosecutors said Tuesday in court documents that for the first time reveal a possible motive.

The documents were filed ahead of a hearing Wednesday where a judge will hear arguments on whether to suppress any of the evidence against Willard Miller and Jeremy Goodale, who are charged with murdering high school Spanish teacher Nohema Graber in the small town of Fairfield.


In a police interview, Miller described the frustrations he had with the way Graber taught Spanish and over how the grade in her class was lowering his GPA.

“The poor grade is believed to be the motive behind the murder of Graber which directly connects Miller,” court documents filed by Jefferson County Attorney Chauncey Moulding and Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown said.

April 18, 2023

Nearly 18 months after a pair of Fairfield teens bludgeoned a Spanish teacher to death after a dispute over a bad grade ― a brutal tragedy that shook the southeast Iowa city and people across the state ― they pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Tuesday in Jefferson County Court.

Willard Miller had been set to go to trial later this week, Prosecutors will recommend he receive life in prison with eligibility for parole after 30 years.

They will recommend co-defendant Jeremy Goodale, who had agreed to testify against Miller, be eligible for parole after 25 years.

July 6, 2023

Iowa law does not permit juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That's very fortunate for Willard Miller, who pleaded guilty to the murder of his Spanish teacher, the judge who sentenced him told him Thursday.

Judge Shawn Showers ordered Miller, now 17, to serve life in prison with a minimum term before parole of 35 years for the 2021 death of Nohema Graber, 66. The Fairfield High School teacher was beaten to death, her body left hidden under a tarp and railroad tie in a city park.

The order came after a daylong hearing reviewing key evidence from the case, including playing for the first time in court video excerpts of interviews by state investigators of Miller and co-defendant Jeremy Goodale, who were both 16 at the time of the killing.

The mandatory minimum was five years longer than the 30 years prosecutors had proposed. Miller's attorneys had asked he be sentenced to life with no mandatory minimum to serve.

November 15, 2023

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

A judge sentenced Jeremy Goodale for his role in killing 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 the beating death of Graber.

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 Iowa city about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Des Moines.

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