A 22-year-old Kalispell woman accused of fatally pushing her husband of just eight days off a cliff in Glacier National Park was released from jail on special conditions following a federal judge’s order Thursday afternoon. The judge wrote that federal prosecutors did not build a convincing case that Jordan Linn Graham poses a threat to the community.
“Because the Government concedes that Graham does not pose a risk of flight, and has not met its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community, the Court concludes that Graham must be released,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kris McLean and Zeno Baucus immediately filed a motion to stay the order. They intend to file a motion Friday to revoke the order “based upon the risk that she presents to the community, the seriousness of the charged offense, her repeated false statements and her mental health.”
“The Magistrate Judge’s order releasing the defendant should be stayed pending a decision by this Court on the government’s motion to revoke that same order,” according to the motion.
Federal defenders will oppose the motion.
Graham had been in custody at the Missoula County Detention Center on a federal hold since Sept. 9, when a two-month federal investigation determined there was probable cause to support a complaint alleging the woman committed second-degree murder by pushing Cody Lee Johnson, 25, off a cliff below The Loop trail along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
At a detention hearing in Missoula Wednesday, 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, only to later argue that incarceration is warranted while charges pend.
“In fact, the timing of the events in this case suggest otherwise,” Lynch wrote in his order. “The record reflects that law enforcement interviewed Graham on July 16, 2013, at which time she stated that she pushed Johnson off a cliff in Glacier National Park. (FBI) Agent (Steven) Liss’s testimony at the detention hearing established that as of the date of that interview, the Government was in possession of all the information set forth in the subsequent charging affidavit – information that this Court found was sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to believe Graham committed the offense of murder in the second degree.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the Government had all of that information by July 16, 2013, it chose not to file charges or arrest Graham until Sept. 9, 2013. The fact that the government waited nearly two months before doing so suggests that it did not believe Graham posed a significant danger to the community.”
In a separate order, Lynch set a host of conditions to which Graham must adhere. They require her to abide by the following restrictions: avoid contact with witnesses; participate in a home detention program that includes radio monitoring; surrender her passport; undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment; report regularly to a pretrial officer; and be placed in the custody of her mother, who lives in Kalispell. Graham was released from the jail just before 3 p.m.
“The record reflects that Graham has strong family ties in the community of Kalispell, Montana, having lived there her entire life,” Lynch wrote. “In addition, the Pretrial Services Report proffered by Graham reflects that she has no criminal history whatsoever. Nor is there any indication that Graham has any history of drug or alcohol abuse. And importantly, there is no evidence beyond the isolated incident alleged in the criminal complaint that Graham has ever before exhibited tendencies for violence or even anger. This factor thus weighs in favor or release.”
Federal prosecutors also took the position that Graham is at risk of harming herself due to the emotional distress associated with allegedly having committed the crime. For support, the prosecution pointed to text messages that Graham sent to other individuals “purportedly indicating that she has been upset, emotional and possibly suicidal,” Lynch wrote, adding that his special conditions would be sufficient to protect her from harming herself.
Click here to read Lynch’s order.
According to an affidavit in support of the complaint, submitted by Special Agent Liss, who also testified at Wednesday’s 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.
U.S. District Judge Don Molloy will preside over the case as it develops. As is procedure, Magistrate Judge Lynch is no longer assigned to the case.
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