US newlywed gets 30 years in jail for murdering husband of eight days by pushing him off a cliff
Montana judge sentences bride to 30 years and five months for killing husband in local scenic spot
A woman was sentenced on Thursday to more than 30 years in prison for killing her husband of eight days by pushing him from a cliff in a Montana national park after they argued over her regrets about the marriage.
US District Judge Donald Molloy said he saw no remorse from Jordan Graham, 22, in the killing of Cody Johnson, 25. He sentenced her to 30 years and five months in prison and ordered her to pay US$16,910 in restitution.
Graham will be subject to five years of court supervision upon her release. There is no possibility of parole in the federal system, meaning she is likely to serve the full term.
US Attorney Michael Cotter said he expects the defence to appeal against Molloy’s sentence. Graham’s attorneys could not be reached for comment following Thursday’s sentencing hearing.
A tearful Graham took the stand during Thursday’s hearing, apologising to her family and Johnson’s.
But Molloy indicated he had continuing doubts about the woman’s honesty. The judge said he was waiting for Graham “to say she was sorry for killing Cody,” KGVO-AM radio reported.
“There’s only one person in this room that knows what happened, and I don’t think she’s been entirely truthful about what happened,” Molloy said.
Prosecutors said Graham lured Johnson to a steep cliff in Glacier Park on July 7 and pushed him over, then lied repeatedly to investigators in an attempt to cover up the crime.
She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder just before closing arguments during her December trial, but tried unsuccessfully to retract that plea after prosecutors recommended a prison term of 50 years to life.
Prosecutors dropped a first-degree murder charge and a count of making a false statement to authorities when Graham changed her plea.
Graham addressed the judge and assembled friends and family members during the hearing, crying throughout her testimony, the Missoulian newspaper reported. She claimed to still love Johnson.
“It was a moment of complete shock and panic,” Graham said. “I have no other explanation.”
Federal prosecutors painted a more calculating picture of the defendant.
They said she drove away from the murder scene without checking to see if Johnson had survived the fall. The absence of any drugs or alcohol in the case meant the defendant “was thinking very clearly,” Assistant US Attorney Kris Mclean said.
Before he accepted her plea in December, the judge asked Graham to tell him what happened.
Graham said she decided to confront her husband about her marriage doubts, but she did not know how he would take it. She said the couple climbed down a treacherous slope below a popular spot in the park called The Loop and spoke on a narrow ledge, hundreds of feet above a ravine.
She told Johnson she was unhappy. They argued, and at one point, she said, he grabbed her by the arm, and she thought he was going to pull her.
She told the judge she got angry at Johnson, brushed his hand away, then pushed him, with one hand on his arm and one on his back.
“I wasn’t thinking about where we were ... I just pushed,” Graham said.
She said she then drove back to her home in Kalispell.
Johnson was reported missing July 8 when he failed to show up for work.
Graham initially told investigators that Johnson left their house July 7 with unknown friends. But Johnson’s friends testified they were suspicious of the story and suspected Graham played a role in his disappearance.
Graham showed police a fabricated e-mail – purportedly from a friend of Johnson – that said Johnson was dead and to call off the search.
She later told rangers she had found Johnson’s body near The Loop because it was a place he wanted to see before he died. Ultimately, Graham acknowledged she was with Johnson on the cliff after investigators confronted her with a security camera photo of the couple entering the park.
Prosecutors presented jurors dozens of text messages between Graham and a friend from church, Kimberly Martinez, that documented how Graham’s nervous excitement at the prospect of the wedding turned into despair over the week that followed.
Graham’s attorneys tried to chip away at the prosecution’s depiction of her as a cold, dispassionate woman who didn’t want to marry Johnson, as well as their contention that she deliberately pushed him to his death. They also showed jurors videos of the couple’s June 29 wedding and their first dance.