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FAIRFIELD — Lawyers for two Fairfield teens charged with killing a high school Spanish teacher argued Monday that a hearing Thursday regarding whether their cases should be moved to juvenile court could include confidential materials — medical or other reports that would prejudice the teens.
Lawyers for Jeremy Everett Goodale and Willard Noble Chaiden Miller, both 16, argued during an in-person hearing that also was by video, that Thursday’s reverse waiver hearing could include information from a juvenile court officer, law enforcement investigation, psychological evaluations and search warrant applications, which each have portions that otherwise would be confidential.
The defense lawyers asked the judge to consider their arguments previously submitted for this motion.
Jefferson County Attorney Chauncey Moulding argued both teens are accused as adults and the murder charges filed against them are in district — adult — court and should remain open. If the court grants transferring the cases to juvenile court, further proceedings would be closed.
“There are no secret murder trials in America,” Moulding said.
The reasons for moving a murder case to juvenile court should be heard in open court because the public has the right to know, he said.
Susan Elgin, lawyer for the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a nonprofit organization that represents media and media organizations across the state, agreed, saying she couldn’t think of a case with more public interest because this involves a high school teacher being killed and two students are the accused.
Providing public access to court proceedings bolsters confidence in the court system, Elgin said. The community needs to know why a crime such as this would be move to juvenile court — where it won’t be open to the public — or the reasons these teens should remain in adult court.
Eighth Judicial District Judge Shawn Showers, during the hearing, reminded the defense there is no absolute right to a reverse waiver hearing. He could make a ruling without holding a hearing. He said he was not aware of any 16-year-old charged with murder being waived to juvenile court.
Christine Branstad, lawyer for Miller, said a hearing was warranted because both teens were 16 and had no criminal history.
Motion for suppression hearing
Both teens’ lawyers also previously asked the court to have a suppression hearing before the reverse waiver hearing, arguing some of the evidence they want kept out of trial may be included in Thursday’s hearing. But Showers ruled before Monday’s hearing that a suppression hearing would be scheduled after the reverse waiver was decided.
Branstad asked the judge to reconsider his decision, arguing the prosecution will use evidence the defense wants to suppress at the reverse waiver hearing. There’s no prejudice to the prosecution if a suppression hearing is before the reverse waiver hearing, she said.
Allen Cook and J. Nicole Jensen, lawyers for Goodale, joined in her motion, arguing the prosecution said there still is more evidence that has not been shared with defense.
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown said Thursday’s hearing is necessary first because it’s a “threshold” to determine what court this case goes forward — adult or juvenile. There’s no reason to have suppression first. The charges are still a first-degree murder and do not belong in juvenile court — “no matter what they want to suppress,” said Brown, who was clearly frustrated that this was being argued after the judge already ruled on this issue.
He told the judge the prosecution believes he made the “right” ruling the first time regarding the suppression hearing.
Moulding said there are only a couple of pieces of DNA that aren’t back from testing that have not been shared with defense. The prosecution isn’t “holding onto” any evidence, he added.
Moulding also noted the crime happened Nov. 2 of last year and said they are wasting time “dancing around what court this will be in and not addressing substantive issues. We need to move forward with this.”
Showers said he would allow the defense to file additional documents and make a written ruling on the suppression hearing.
The reverse waiver hearing still is set for Thursday in Jefferson County District Court, pending the court’s ruling.
Each teen is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit a forcible felony. If the cases were moved back to juvenile court, they would face lesser sentences if convicted.
Unsealed search warrants
A motive for the killing has not been released. But according to court documents, the teens schemed over social media to kill Nohema Graber, who had taught at Fairfield High since 2012. They monitored her routine before ambushing her on her daily walk in the park, killing her and later hiding her body, according to court documents.
Search warrants unsealed Monday state Paul Graber, ex-husband of Nohema Graber, 66, reported about 8:23 a.m. Nov. 3 that she hadn’t come home Nov. 2 and didn’t report to work, which was unusual for her.
Later, officers found footage from surveillance video that showed Graber leaving Fairfield High School in her vehicle 3:59 p.m. and driving into Chautauqua Park. Her vehicle left the park about 4:42 p.m. and silver Ford pickup with topper followed it out of the park.
The park was searched and Graber’s body was found on the northeast side of the park concealed under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties.
According to the affidavit, Miller’s friends showed police Goodale’s social media messages that talked about planning, killing and disposing of the body. In this conversation, Goodale stated the weapon used was a baseball bat.
According to another search warrant affidavit also unsealed Monday, Miller told investigators he provided the wheelbarrow used to hide the body.
A witness who lived near the park told police on Nov. 4 that he recalled seeing a male pushing a wheelbarrow about midnight to the corner of Briggs Avenue and Park Street. The male continued eastbound with the wheelbarrow toward the park. The witness couldn’t provide a description or clothing of the male with the wheelbarrow that night, the affidavit states.
A different unsealed search warrant shows authorities searched Miller’s house and wanted to obtain any baseball or other caps, clothing, shoes, personal belongings of Graber, keys from a 1997 Honda Odyssey and keys to Fairfield High. Information from a friend of Miller’s said these items used or worn during the crime were taken back to Miller’s house.
A motion to have separate trials also was filed and the prosecution does not resist, so Showers approved those and reset the Goodale’s trial to Aug. 23. and Miller’s will be Nov. 1.
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