A federal judge on Tuesday set a Dec. 9 trial date in the case of the newlywed bride charged with murder for allegedly pushing her husband off a cliff in Glacier National Park.
Jordan Linn Graham, 22, of Kalispell, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making a false statement in U.S. District Court. She is accused of pushing Cody Lee Johnson, 25, off a cliff near The Loop along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier Park on the evening of July 7, and then lying to authorities about the circumstances of his mysterious disappearance.
Graham was taken into custody Sept. 9 after a two-month federal investigation resulted in a complaint alleging she committed the crime eight days after the couple was married. The complaint also states that Graham expressed misgivings to friends about the nascent marriage, while a grand jury indictment unsealed Oct. 3 says she committed the felonies “with malice, aforethought and premeditation.”
At a detention hearing last month, federal defender Michael Donahoe told a federal magistrate judge that Graham was acting in self defense, and contends Graham’s pushing Johnson was part of her attempt to free herself after Johnson grabbed her during an argument.
In court papers, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kris McLean and Zeno Baucus have stated that they anticipate calling 60 witnesses to testify at a trial that could last two weeks. The prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy for a February trial date to allow more time to examine evidence, saying the government shutdown has disrupted the discovery process.
“A significant amount of discovery has yet to be produced and the United States will endeavor to process it and produce it as quickly as possible. This may take a few weeks and may be prolonged by, among other factors, the impact of the government shutdown on the United States Attorney’s staff and the anticipated collection of additional discovery,” the prosecutors wrote in a brief.
Federal defenders Donahoe and Andrew Nelson also said they would prefer a February trial date, but Molloy went forward with a Dec. 9 trial in Missoula in order to comply with Graham’s right to a speedy trial.
Following the judge’s scheduling order, Graham waived her right to a speedy trial “in consideration of my counsels’ needs to properly prepare my defense,” according to her motion.
According to an FBI agent’s affidavit in support of the charges, Graham constructed an elaborate lie after she pushed Johnson to his death, telling investigators he 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 gave rise to suspicion among investigators, 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 affidavit states.
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 July 7.
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