Trial

Bride to FBI: 'I thought after a girl got married she should be on Cloud Nine'

2013-12-11T21:45:00Z 2014-10-03T14:27:52Z Bride to FBI: 'I thought after a girl got married she should be on Cloud Nine' missoulian.com

Friends and family members of Cody Johnson testified in Jordan Linn Graham’s murder trial Wednesday that he said his new bride was planning a “big surprise” for him on the day he died.

Deputy Flathead County Coroner Richard Sine also testified that when Johnson, 25, was found in a small pool below a cliff in Glacier National Park, he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring and didn’t have a set of keys on him.

Graham, 22, of Kalispell, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making false statements to law enforcement.

Prosecutors maintain Graham intentionally pushed her husband of eight days off the cliff in Glacier in the twilight hours of July 7. Defense attorneys, however, say she didn’t mean to kill Johnson and only pushed him after he grabbed her arm during an argument.

In U.S. District Court in Missoula on Wednesday, Johnson’s friend Eddie Alberto Colon testified that Johnson told him Graham was planning a surprise for him after church on July 7. Colon said Johnson declined an invitation to golf because of Graham’s surprise.

Another family friend, Brad Blasdel, along Graham’s stepfather, Steve Rutledge, testified that Johnson had mentioned the surprise to them as well, and seemed dejected later that night when they asked him about it.

The surprise hadn’t happened, Johnson told them.

***

Attorneys spent most of the afternoon questioning FBI investigator Stacey Smiedala and reviewing his recorded interview with Graham on July 16, during which she admitted pushing her husband off the cliff.

Though she cried during an unrecorded part of the interview, on the recording she calmly explained the events that led up to her husband’s death and her actions afterward.

Graham said that in the week after getting married she was having the wedding blues.

“I thought after a girl got married she should be on Cloud Nine and be happy all the time,” Graham told Smiedala.

She said that she was having doubts about marrying Johnson so young.

The couple drove to Glacier, parked at The Loop and went hiking on the trail there, she said. They were having a heated discussion when they went off the trail.

“I am still in love with him,” she told Smiedala.

And she didn’t want to get a divorce, but she said Johnson was talking to her like she was a child.

When Johnson grabbed her arm by a stump near the cliff, she was angrier than she had ever been in her life, she told Smiedala.

When she pulled away, she could have left, she said. But instead she pushed him with both hands in his back and sent him plummeting to his death.

During the interview, Graham also said the surprise she was hinting at was a plan to hold a big barbecue for her new husband and his friends.

She also told Smiedala that her husband was wearing his wedding ring when she pushed him off the cliff. But a photograph of Johnson’s hand revealed that he was not wearing a wedding ring when his body was found.

***

The prosecution pointed out Wednesday there is no maintained trail near where Graham pushed Johnson, meaning the couple would have had to climb over a retaining wall and navigate treacherous terrain to get to the spot.

National Park Service Special Agent Justin Ivary took the stand and told prosecutors he was able to rappel down to the area with climbing gear and the assistance of another park official, but didn’t feel safe there without the special equipment.

Johnson’s friend Jacob Bell testified that in the four years they were acquainted, he never knew Johnson to be a risk-taker outdoors and said he would never go off trail for a hike.

“He was more nervous about extreme hiking – even more than the rest of us,” he said.

Other friends testified that Graham’s emotional reaction was odd during their interactions with her after Johnson’s disappearance.

After he realized that Johnson was missing on July 8, Jacob Bell went to the couple’s recently rented townhouse to consult with Graham and Johnson’s mother about what to do.

“(Graham) said we are asking her too many questions that she didn’t have answers to and it was making her mad,” he said.

Graham spent Johnson’s funeral on her cellphone and didn’t pay attention to the people talking, he said. Another friend testified Graham laughed and socialized during a potluck meal after the service.

***

Johnson’s mother, Sherry, tearfully testified Wednesday that her dream of becoming a grandmother died with her only son.

She said her son had a life insurance policy that she and her husband – also now deceased – bought when he was 4 months old. She didn’t know if Graham knew about the policy.

Sherry Johnson said she was in contact with Graham after her son’s disappearance and initially didn’t suspect her in his death.

In fact, she attempted to console Graham during a prayer service after Johnson’s body was found. She said Graham was kneeling in prayer when she approached her.

“I put my arm around her,” Sherry Johnson said. “I told her, ‘Everything will be OK. Cody is with Jesus now.’ ”

Graham didn’t respond, she said.

Later, she attempted to coordinate with Graham about going through Johnson’s belongings. But Graham told her she was going to take his items to Goodwill, Sherry Johnson said.

Johnson’s mother also said her son had only one set of keys.

Graham remained stoic throughout testimony Wednesday.

The trial, which started Monday and is expected to last through Friday, resumes at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

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(14) Comments

  1. sep924
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    sep924 - December 12, 2013 2:13 pm
    NEWS FLASH: She just took a plea deal.
  2. flatheadgal
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    flatheadgal - December 12, 2013 11:23 am
    If she gets convicted, because this is a federal thing, she would go into the federal system, not to a MT prison. It is federal because she allegedly did it in a National Park.
  3. Alan H Johnson
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    Alan H Johnson - December 12, 2013 11:09 am
    Just a thought. If the husband's death were premeditated, then why didn't she just report the fall immediately as an accident? There is no physical evidence that would have shown he was pushed. If she had just reported it immediately as an accident, no one could say it wasn't with any certainty.

    I am thinking it may run more to voluntary manslaughter or at most second degree murder, which I assume will be presented to the jury as lesser-included offenses, in case it can't reach a unanimous verdict on murder one. Of course all the evidence is not in and the defense has not presented its case. Routinely defendants are advised not to testify at trial. In this case, she would be hit hard with her inconsistent statements during the government's cross examination. In the end, it's her call whether to testify or not. My guess is she won't unless the defense has very important evidence to put before the jury that only the defendant can testify to.
  4. JLight
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    JLight - December 12, 2013 10:34 am
    I just can't grasp how cold a person must be (accident or not) to calmly leave someone at the bottom of a cliff and never look back. Then to knowingly lead her little brother to see what must have been a badly decomposing corpse is just horrendous. He’ll never get that image out of his head. What total disregard for human life.
  5. Lamplighter
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    Lamplighter - December 12, 2013 10:03 am
    Tick. Tick....It's time for both sides to prepare their closing arguments. And by now the jury well understands the need to render a verdict within the next 36 hours so Judge Molloy can hot foot it to his next appointment in Billings. Really! This clock-watching jurist should move from the bench to his own syndicated TV show where he can mete out justice in predictable half hour increments. The trial needs to run its own course. It can't be conveniently cut off like a slice of braunschweiger at the whim of the butcher...
  6. MontanaTaxPayer
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    MontanaTaxPayer - December 12, 2013 9:07 am
    "this woman needs decades behind bars in which to ponder killing this young man..."
    Really? I would prefer that when she is found guilty that she'd be executed as soon as possible. It would be a shame for Cody Johnson's family, and friends to have endure any further suffering. Also as a taxpayer I do not want to contribute any of my tax dollars to the funds to keep Jordan Linn Graham’s alive. (which is now about $60,000 dollars a year to incarcerate an inmate in the Montana Prison system.)
  7. GaryEG
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    GaryEG - December 12, 2013 9:02 am
    Even though I believe this woman to be guilty I have a bad feeling the jury will return a not guilty verdict. The way I see it, the prosecution has a very difficult job here. I hope justice is served hear but I do have my doubts.
  8. Roger
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    Roger - December 12, 2013 8:52 am
    Exactly right! The woman is a cold, calculating criminal, possibly a psychopath, who needs to be incarcerated for the rest of her life.
  9. MT_Mama
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    MT_Mama - December 12, 2013 8:51 am
    I don't think Graham will testify. She would hurt herself more by doing so and the prosecution would expose more of her lies. Assuming one can believe anything she says, pushing someone IN THE BACK with BOTH HANDS off a cliff is not a reasonable reaction to having one's arm grabbed. Pulling away, yes. All the testimony is painting her as an extremely cold-blooded killer. I think she planned the murder and was glad she did it, until she got caught. If it really was an accident and she loved him, why didn't she get help?
  10. huckleberryhaven
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    huckleberryhaven - December 12, 2013 8:42 am
    This speaks volume right here.This is not self defense in no way, shape or form.........................""When she pulled away, she could have left, she said. But instead she pushed him with both hands in his back and sent him plummeting to his death.""
  11. idiot state
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    idiot state - December 12, 2013 7:38 am
    There is no defense--NO DEFENSE--that justifies a person pushing a newly married spouse off a deadly cliff after a week of marriage. Not "accident" not "instinct" not "self defense" not NOTHING. No defense. None. Let's hope the jury is bright enough to understand that. A horrifying crime and this woman needs decades behind bars in which to ponder killing this young man...
  12. Bittersweet
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    Bittersweet - December 11, 2013 11:46 pm
    Clarification better come quick. Molloy has bigger fish to fry come next week.....so he thinks.
  13. Run - A- Mook
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    Run - A- Mook - December 11, 2013 9:51 pm
    "surprise" long dive
  14. montanamuralist
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    montanamuralist - December 11, 2013 5:54 pm
    If I am on the jury, this "surprise" thing needs to be clarified by her somehow in testimony or intent is looking alot more likely on her part. That should have given the jury pause today...
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