Attorneys: Newlywed must show remorse at murder sentencing

2014-03-24T06:00:00Z 2014-10-24T08:21:40Z Attorneys: Newlywed must show remorse at murder sentencingBy ALICE MILLER of the Missoulian

Does pushing your husband off a cliff to his death warrant serving life in prison? Or 10 years? Or somewhere in between?

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy must decide what punishment is fitting for Jordan Graham, who pushed her husband off a cliff in Glacier National Park last summer after only eight days of marriage.

After both sides had rested their case in a December trial, 22-year-old Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 25-year-old Cody Johnson before the jury could enter into deliberations.

The case is relatively unusual for federal court, since accusations of murder are usually tried and sentenced in county courtrooms, but Graham pushed Johnson on federal land, said Jordan Gross, an associate professor of law at the University of Montana who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure.

Federal sentencing guidelines are vague on what’s required for second-degree murder. Hence the 90-year difference in sentences the defense and prosecution are asking Molloy to hand down, Gross said.

Graham was charged with first-degree murder, a lesser included charge of second-degree murder and making false statements to law enforcement. For first-degree murder, prosecutors must prove there was intent on the defendant’s part, where intent is not required for a second-degree murder conviction.

Although Graham pleaded guilty, prosecutors rehashed in their sentencing memorandum that Johnson was found without his wedding ring or car keys and hinted at the possibility that Graham had indeed intended to kill her new husband.

Graham’s defense team contends that the circumstances of the evening were a recipe for disaster and that the incident was more akin to an accident.

“She pleaded guilty, but that doesn’t mean that the prosecution can’t come in and argue her sentence up to life because that’s what the statute says,” Gross explained. Federal statutes also don’t stipulate a required minimum sentence.

The benefit of pleading guilty before the jury could return a verdict is that it shows Graham accepts responsibility for her actions, Gross said.

“There are shades of acceptance of responsibility,” though, Gross said, adding that in Graham’s case, she didn’t spare Johnson’s family the anguish of taking the stand and reliving their pain during a trial.


Letters from family and friends in support of Graham, and letters filed on behalf of the prosecution, also will play a role in Molloy’s determination – and give insight from those who know Graham and Johnson best.

Brad Blasdel, who knew Graham for several years through her family, wrote that she was quiet and shy on the surface but cold and calculating underneath and showed no emotion about Johnson’s death.

“Not once did I see any sign of remorse in Jordan for killing Cody,” he wrote, asking Molloy to consider the woman’s callousness during sentencing.

“She took Cody’s life with premeditation and malice; now she must give hers,” he continued.

Cyndi Blasdel called Graham a “quiet instigator” who frequently encouraged bad behavior in others from the time she was a child.

After Graham and Johnson’s engagement, Graham’s behavior became increasingly erratic, to the point of murder, Blasdel said.

“Jordan Graham knew what she did was wrong and knew the consequences. She needs to be held accountable. She is not a non-violent offender. Those of us who know her are afraid and some of us still sleep with the lights on,” she wrote.

Johnson’s neighbor, Scott Hemmelman, wrote in his letter that effects of the murder have rippled throughout the Kalispell community.

“What was taken from this world in a heinous malicious act was more than a life. It took a friend too (sic) all,” Hemmelman wrote.

“We ask the court to please ensure that a mother, family, friends and society do not have to endure this pain ever again and hand down the maximum sentence of life,” he concluded.

People who wrote letters on Graham’s behalf, though, urged Molloy to be lenient to the quiet, hardworking woman who they say diligently attended church and served as a mentor to other young women.

Graham’s stepfather, Steven Rutledge, wrote that he feels Johnson’s death was a terrible accident.

“Why she decided to tell stories about the true events are unknown and unfortunate, but not a reason for a long prison term,” he wrote.

Graham is a quiet churchgoer who cares deeply about others, he wrote. “I ask you to grant Jordan some leniency, and a chance at living her life as a young Christian woman.”

If Molloy is lenient, Graham has the potential to become a contributing member of society, her mother Lindele Rutledge wrote.

Her daughter has shown remorse repeatedly in letters, through phone conversations and during visitation times, Rutledge wrote. “She has never been in trouble with the law. Her only record is a couple of speeding tickets. By showing her leniency she could get a college education and become a better and useful member of society.”


While the letter writers and each side’s lawyers are trying to paint Graham in a specific light, the presentence investigation report describes the young woman overall.

“There’s a neutral in there – and that’s the probation officer who actually goes in and does a thorough and independent investigation,” Gross said.

To compile the report, a probation officer conducts interviews about and research into Graham’s past, from her childhood to present day, to provide information that can shed light on any mental or physical impairment, whether she’s likely to re-offend and if she ever was involved in uncharged criminal conduct.

Graham also likely will address Molloy during Thursday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Missoula.

It will be her opportunity to interact with Molloy outside of the case facts, said Paul Ryan, who has practiced law in Missoula for 20 years.

Her comments to the judge will allow her to personally explain why she pushed Johnson and convey if she truly accepts responsibility for her actions, Ryan said.

Johnson’s mother, Sherry Johnson, as well as several other family members, will make comments during the sentencing hearing too.

“They’re usually the most emotional and they can certainly carry a lot of weight with the judge,” Ryan said.

What Johnson’s family feels is appropriate punishment also will factor into the decision, as will the impact to the victim, he said.

“In this case, it was fatal. There can’t be a greater impact on a person than that,” he added.

After taking all the information into consideration, Molloy will have to decide what to weigh most heavily in his decision and what comments and information are most credible to discern if the murder was unusual behavior for Graham or if she poses a risk to society.

“The bottom line is she admitted and pled guilty to a significant crime, so you’ve got to start with that,” Ryan said.

After Molloy hands down a sentence, the Board of Prisons will decide to which federal penitentiary Graham will be assigned. There are no federal prisons in Montana.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(26) Comments

  1. BJackson
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    BJackson - March 25, 2014 7:05 pm
    She is playing the court and every body else, she has now requested to withdraw her guilty plea!
  2. BJackson
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    BJackson - March 25, 2014 11:44 am

    Frying her is not an option.
  3. Roger
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    Roger - March 25, 2014 8:38 am
    Well Greg, I'm forming a decision on whether I believe you're a good candidate, and so far I'm leaning negative.
  4. Roger
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    Roger - March 25, 2014 8:33 am
    Anything less than life without parole is too lenient - I agree with Buckshot Mama - fry her.
  5. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - March 25, 2014 12:27 am
    I get lazy. And as for not knowing, yep, there's a lot of things I don't know. A lot of people that do know a lot haven't done too well as elected officials, in my mind.
  6. BJackson
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    BJackson - March 24, 2014 4:31 pm
    Greg, for someone that claims to be running for office, I would think you would be a little more knowledgeable about many of these topics you comment on.

    By the way, why is it, you only include the tag line that you are running, on certain messages?
  7. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - March 24, 2014 2:12 pm
    Well, I guess I wasn't aware of the federal nature of the crime.

    Follow that link to my site if you're interested in the prison problems here. 13,000 people, more than UM's students. But I don't think anyone reading the news here really cares about that.

    Those people are nothing, remember? We should just kill them and be done with it, and then we can save lots of money.

    I mean, they can't be rehabilitated - not with the money we're spending on that. And I sure don't know how we'll reduced the #1 crime in Montana - felony DUIs - if we don't save money from incarceration and put it into treatment and mental health.

    But we'll never do that, will we? That would mean we care about our fellow citizens, and let's face it, we only care about ourselves.
  8. hardnosed
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    hardnosed - March 24, 2014 1:05 pm
    First and foremost if she was so church going as the family claims then she knew her ten commandments and Shall Not Kill is a big one that tops the list. Second, she showed no remorse. All her and her mother were worried about when they came over on that first Friday to try and "console" the mother was if Cody's last paycheck had been deposited and how they were going to get the money. How they were going to pay of Cody's car so Jordan could have a decent car. There was no concern the fact that a mother just found out confirmation that her only child was dead. They also had Cody's personnal belongings already decided on what they were going to keep and what they weren't. More worried about how they are going to pay the bills and if Sherry could help. Cold and heartless from both the mother and Jordan. Steve the stepfather kept getting upset because Jordan wouldn't stop messing around on her cellphone and those two wouldn't stop yapping about money and bills. To the people that are whining about the cost of what it will be to keep her in for a life sentence, buzz off. Have this be your close friend or only child and see if you wouldn't be willing to pay her cost per day. She can work while she is in prison and make money to help pay for her stay. So the cost to keep her off the streets is minimal when you figure what it cost to leave her on the streets and she killed someone and will kill again.
  9. BJackson
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    BJackson - March 24, 2014 9:56 am
    My point in asking Greg how he would punish her was, even if she received a 50 year sentence and did qualify for some good behavior reduction, the cost is still going to remain high. 50 years should be considered a life sentence for most individuals, yes life expectancy is higher today, but spending that time is prison is often a detriment to a long life..

    So saying it will be expensive putting her in prison for life and then advocating 40 or 50 years is kind of an oxymoron, either sentence is going to cost a lot of money and we will be paying it.
  10. maikeru1979
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    maikeru1979 - March 24, 2014 8:02 am would I punish her.. sentence of 25 years if she has to serve it all as she does being a federal prisoner. I had a friend back in the 90s shoot his best friend during Hunting Season all because the friend asked the guys girlfriend to the winter formal. was convicted of 2nd degree murder and only got 22 years with parole eligible after only 8(state prison) he is now out on parole and doing fairly well. stays out of trouble and is married now.
  11. Roger
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    Roger - March 24, 2014 7:58 am
    By locking her up, society will be protected against a violent, mentally unstable criminal - possibly a psychopath - who has already committed a heinous murder. What are you doing standing up for her - catering to the radicals who might prefer to give her a break because she's a female who murdered her husband, when she could have just divorced him?
  12. buckshot mama
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    buckshot mama - March 24, 2014 7:57 am
    why don't they fry this crazy. keep her alive instead. she didn't give her husband that option.
  13. walter12
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    walter12 - March 24, 2014 6:39 am
    Why should she show remorse when there is none. She is a very sick woman.
  14. BJackson
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    BJackson - March 23, 2014 7:56 pm
    Oh by the way, you do realize that a 50 year sentence could actually turn out to be a life sentence, she is 22 years old, put her in jail for 50 years and she would need to make it to 72 before she gets out, now if she does accumulate some good behavior time, she would still be in her 60's, so, life spelled out on paper or life because she dies in prison in her 60's the cost is going to be the same.
  15. BJackson
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    BJackson - March 23, 2014 7:51 pm
    Greg, there is no parole in the Federal system, she will do most of what ever time she is sentenced to. She can receive a small amount of time off for good behavior.

    That said, you didn't answer my question.....

    How would you punish her? Simple question, please answer the question.
  16. Love's Life
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    Love's Life - March 23, 2014 6:09 pm
    First of all a person that intentionally takes another's life should be in prison and for life! As for as Montana footing the bill (or you) go back a read the article again. She will go to a Federal prison because it happened on Federal land.
  17. Roger
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    Roger - March 23, 2014 5:13 pm
    I disagree - this murderer may be a psychopath, and she has already murdered her own husband in cold blood. Cost should be secondary to safeguarding society from killers like her - not to mention punishing her for her crime.
  18. Cats Life
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    Cats Life - March 23, 2014 5:04 pm
    I am going to venture a guess that JG will receive a sentence of 357 months (29.75 years). Under Bureau of Prisons rules, she will be entitled to accumulate good conduct time of 54 days per year -- a reduction of 12.9%. Prisoners who demonstrate good behavior serve only about 87.1% of their total sentences. Thus, for a sentence of 357 months, she would only be required to serve 310.9 months (25.91 years), assuming she in fact is able to accumulates good conduct time.
  19. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - March 23, 2014 2:14 pm
    Is putting people away for life stopping violent crimes from happening? I don't think so, especially with cases like this, which seem to be more crimes of passion. I don't think this woman is a habitual offender.

    I also don't think giving life sentences does much for those guards working at the prison, except make their jobs more dangerous. When you're in for life, what hope is there, what incentive is there to be good?

    I'd be surprised if the judge gives her life. I think 50 years with the possibility of parole then or maybe at 40 years or so. I'm no judicial expert, so I don't know.

    Having a woman in prison for life, at that financial cost, seems high. Who is that helping? Who will it be helping in 50 years? Will the pain of that man's death lessen because of it? Tough questions.
  20. Roger
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    Roger - March 23, 2014 11:20 am
    She should get the maximum sentence, with no possibility of parole. Her deliberate and callous murder of her husband demands justice - not some sugar-coated penalty just because she's a female.
  21. huckleberryhaven
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    huckleberryhaven - March 23, 2014 10:01 am
    Ask Cody Johnson's Family if it's worth it? And they will say yes. Ask his Mom, ask his Dad. Go ahead. Now, Greg, you don't know Cody Johnson I imagine, so it may not be worth it to you to send this murderer to prison for life. But. Had it been your wife, your mother, your son, your daughter, etc, who was pushed off a cliff to their death, with no emotion whatsoever after the fact, no remorse. The questions is. Is life in prison worth it to you? Maybe, you would be willing to house this murderer in your own home and then her life in prison sentence wouldn't cost us taxpayers. If you have children, would you want her to babysit for you?
  22. PappaRozzi
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    PappaRozzi - March 23, 2014 9:16 am
    Any more, it's a court of law, not a court of justice.
  23. BJackson
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    BJackson - March 23, 2014 8:40 am
    Greg, in light of the costs, which you state you don't want to pay, what would a sufficient punishment for this admitted killer be? If we are going to look at the cost factor of punishment in our society, how do we come up with a punishment to fit the crime? It is a given, society does not want an admitted killer walking among us, so how would you punish her?
  24. listen
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    listen - March 23, 2014 7:17 am
    A plea of guilty "shows Graham accepts responsibility for her actions," and “There are shades of acceptance of responsibility,” Gross said. Really? To me it means the art of wheeling and dealing a plea bargain. Guilt or innocence has nothing to do with this lawyer game. Is she guilty of ending his life? Was it an accident? Preplanned? Depending on the answers then her punishment should match her crime. Murder? Then she should get exactly what she sentenced Cody to: an existence in another dimension. Justice has become a joke for the living and the dead.

  25. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - March 23, 2014 12:25 am
    I decided to do some research, if anyone's interested in what a life sentence for Graham might cost:
  26. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - March 22, 2014 11:06 pm
    I don't like the idea of giving people life in prison. First, there's no hope and that can often lead to problems. Why not misbehave, what are they going to do to you?

    Second, it costs a lot of money, $97.63 a day.

    Think about that number all you folks complaining about food stamps and LIEAP. $2,928.90 is the total cost for a 30-day month for that prisoner, and I don't know anyone getting that much federal assistance each month.

    Except prisoners. But these people are benefiting our economy, aren't they? They're worth more to us locked up than they are on the street, aren't they? We should have more people in prison, if you go by that reasoning, now shouldn't we?

    Does anyone see something wrong with this? But do you really think it'll stop, either?

    I sure hope we don't have to pay $3,000 a month for this woman for the rest of her life. The cost to Montana taxpayers? $35,146.80 a year and since she's only 22 years old, well, let's just say 50 years alright?

    That comes to $1,757,340. Do you want to pay that? I don't.

    Oh, did I mention my calculations are low? Yeah, that's for men. Women cost $104 a day.
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