Federal prosecutors on Thursday filed an indictment against the 22-year-old Kalispell woman accused of fatally pushing her husband off a cliff in Glacier National Park, formally charging her with first- and second-degree murder, as well as with making false statements.
Jordan Linn Graham was taken into custody Sept. 9 after a two-month federal investigation resulted in a complaint alleging the woman killed her husband of eight days, Cody Lee Johnson, 25, also of Kalispell, by pushing him off a cliff near The Loop along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
On Thursday, a grand jury charged Graham by indictment with three federal felonies for killing Johnson “with malice, aforethought and premeditation,” and then lying about it. An earlier complaint filed by a special agent with the FBI charged Johnson with a single count of second-degree murder.
Graham faces the federal charges in U.S. District Court in Missoula before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. An arraignment hearing was scheduled for Friday, Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. at the Russell Smith Courthouse.
At a detention hearing last month, federal defender Michael Donahoe told Molloy that Graham was acting in self defense, and contends Graham’s pushing Johnson was part of her action to free herself after being grabbed during an argument.
Graham was released on house arrest after Donahoe and federal defender Andrew Nelson successfully argued that if Graham posed a danger to the public or herself, as prosecutors contend, authorities would have jailed her on July 16, when she allegedly confessed to the crime. Instead, they continued to investigate the case, subpoenaing phone records and gathering other evidence while Graham remained free.
According to a federal investigator’s affidavit in support of a complaint against Graham – the document, filed last month, provides the most detailed narrative of the allegations – she 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 dubious about the veracity of Graham’s story when she reported finding Johnson’s body to park rangers, the 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.
According to the indictment, she falsely represented her husband’s disappearance, saying his “car buddies from Washington probably came and got him. He always takes his out of state friends here.”
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 that 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, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Steven Liss, the couple drove to Glacier National Park and began arguing while they walked along steep terrain near The Loop. At some point during the argument, Johnson grabbed Graham’s arm while she attempted to walk away angrily. In response, she removed his hand and pushed him with both hands in the back. He fell face first off the cliff, according to the affidavit.
If convicted, Graham faces possible penalties of life in prison and a $250,000 fine for first- and second-degree murder each, and five years in prison for making a false statement.
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