Attorneys representing the 22-year-old Kalispell woman accused of fatally pushing her husband off a cliff in Glacier National Park argued for her release from jail Wednesday, telling a federal judge in Missoula that the woman is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
Jordan Linn Graham remains in custody at the Missoula County Detention Center on a federal hold, pending a written order by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch. The judge said he would issue a decision Thursday by noon.
Graham was taken into custody Sept. 9 after a two-month federal investigation resulted in a complaint alleging the woman committed second-degree murder by pushing Cody Lee Johnson, her husband of eight days, off a cliff below The Loop trail along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Federal defenders representing Graham, Andrew Nelson and Michael Donahoe, told Lynch that if their client truly posed a danger to the public or herself, as prosecutors argued, authorities would have jailed her on July 16, when she allegedly confessed to the crime. Instead, they continued investigating the case while Graham remained free.
Graham’s mother, Lindy Rutledge, testified at Wednesday’s detention hearing, telling the judge that, if released, her daughter would live at home in Kalispell. Graham was born and raised in the Flathead Valley.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kris McLean and Zeno Baucus conceded that Graham was not a flight risk, but said she presented a danger to herself and others.
Lynch said he needed to consider the seriousness of the allegations when making his decision.
According to an affidavit in support of the complaint, submitted by FBI Special Agent Steven Liss, who also testified at the hearing, Graham pushed her husband off a steep cliff during an argument and then constructed an elaborate lie, telling investigators that Johnson disappeared mysteriously on the evening of July 7, when she saw him leave their home in a dark-colored car with unknown friends from out of town.
When Johnson did not show up for work in the morning a missing persons report was filed and posters bearing a photograph of Johnson began appearing around town.
But inconsistencies in Graham’s story drew the suspicions of investigators, as well as of friends and family members, who grew even more doubtful on July 11, when Graham reported finding Johnson’s body to park rangers, records state.
When park officials told Graham it was odd that she had been the one to find the body, she replied, “it was a place he wanted to see before he died,” and, “he would come up here with friends to drive fast when his friends were visiting from out of state,” according to court records.
On July 16, however, Graham admitted that she lied to authorities about the circumstances of her husband’s disappearance and told investigators that she had pushed him off a cliff on the evening of July 7.
Text messages that Graham sent also reveal that she told at least one friend she was having second thoughts about the new marriage, according to court records, and that she intended to discuss her misgivings with Johnson on Sunday, July 7.
That night she texted a friend and said she planned to speak to Johnson about her reservations about having gotten married the previous weekend.
The friend, identified only by initials, told the FBI she received the text from Graham just before 9 p.m. in which Graham said, “Oh well, I’m going to talk to him.”
The friend responded, “I’ll pray for you guys.”
Graham replied, “But dead serious if u don’t hear from me at all again tonight, something happened.”
That evening, Liss said the couple drove to Glacier National Park and began arguing while they walked along a steep section of The Loop trail, according to court records. At some point, Johnson grabbed Graham’s arm while she attempted to walk away angrily. She removed Johnson’s hands and pushed him with both hands in the back. He fell face first off the cliff, according to the affidavit.
Graham faces possible penalties of life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
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