Hearing in Fairfield teacher-murder case will be open to press and public

By: - March 23, 2022 12:10 pm

(Photo by Getty Images)

Court proceedings involving two Iowa teenagers accused of killing their high school Spanish teacher will remain open to the public, with a judge ruling that closing an upcoming hearing would “undermine confidence in the legal process” and infringe on the First Amendment rights of the press.

Last November, the body of Fairfield school teacher Nohema Graber was found in the city’s Chautauqua Park. Within days, prosecutors charged Jeremy Everett Goodale, 16, with the forcible felonies of conspiracy and first-degree murder, and Willard Noble Chaiden Miller, 16, with first-degree murder in connection with Graber’s death.

Although the two defendants were 16 years old at the time of Graber’s death, the serious nature of the crime resulted in both being charged as adults in District Court, rather than as juveniles in Juvenile Court.

Under Iowa law, forcible felonies allegedly committed by a child 16 or older are excluded from the jurisdiction of Juvenile Court. The court can, however, transfer jurisdiction to Juvenile Court after a showing of good cause.

In December, Goodale’s and Miller’s lawyers filed motions with the court seeking to move the cases from the District Court criminal docket to Juvenile Court. Separate hearings on the motions to transfer the two cases to Juvenile Court are scheduled for Thursday.

Goodale’s public defender and Miller’s attorney each filed motions with the court seeking to exclude the press and public from Thursday’s hearings on the transfer issue. Both cited potential testimony that pertains to unspecified “confidential information” that, if publicly disclosed, might hinder the defendants’ ability to secure an impartial jury should the cases proceed to trial in April as expected.

Jefferson County Attorney Chauncey T. Moulding and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council resisted efforts to close the proceedings.

Jefferson County District Judge Shawn Showers ruled this week that to close a criminal proceeding, the defendants must first show a substantial probability that irreparable damage to their rights would result from an open hearing, and that closure would be effective in preventing prejudicial publicity that would deny them their right to a fair trial.

“Defendants’ counsel are justifiably concerned with the publicity this case has already garnered,” Showers stated in his ruling. “The court is concerned with trial by media as much as the defendants. However, the defendants have the burden of showing that their fair-trial rights will be irreparably damaged if the transfer of jurisdiction hearing is not closed to the public. The court finds that defendants have not made that showing at this point in the pretrial proceedings.”

Showers said closing the hearings to the public would “undermine confidence in the legal process and impinge on the press’s First Amendment rights.”

Court records indicate Goodale turns 17 on March 29, and Miller turns 17 on Aug. 9.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.