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.