The trial of a Kalispell woman accused of pushing her newlywed husband off a cliff in Glacier National Park has been set for December.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy denied prosecution and defense lawyers’ requests to hold off until February, and instead set 22-year-old Jordan Linn Graham’s trial for Dec. 9.
Graham is accused of pushing 25-year-old Cody Lee Johnson to his death during an argument July 7, and faces a first-degree murder charge during the trial. She also faces a lesser included charge of second-degree murder and a third charge of making a false statement to federal authorities.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the charges, Graham had expressed doubts about her marriage and planned to confront Johnson about those concerns on the night of his death. The Kalispell couple had been married for eight days.
In court Tuesday, prosecutors suggested a February trial to allow more time to process discovery items in the case, and said the sheer volume of information coupled with a shortage of people to properly deal with it because of the government shutdown is slowing completion of evidence disclosure and witness interviews.
Some warrants are still outstanding and the information sought from them has yet to be returned, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus said.
He added, though, that prosecutors had talked with Johnson’s family and that they were “disappointed” by the prospect of a February trial.
Graham’s public defenders said a February trial date also would be ideal for them and allow them time to file any motions, as well as formulate a thorough response to any scientific and fact witnesses the prosecution plans to call.
Assistant Federal Defender Andrew Nelson stressed to Molloy that Graham’s lawyers are most concerned with knowing who prosecutors plan to call as fact witnesses or who will give scientific testimony.
Molloy, though, scolded the lawyers for wanting to push back the trial.
Although Graham waived her right to a speedy trial, Molloy said convenience for court or lawyers’ calendars does not preclude the right to a speedy trial for either Graham or for Johnson’s family.
“I don’t understand why we can’t set this case in December,” Molloy told lawyers before they shared their reasoning.
“I’m not tracking either party,” he said, adding the case is not complicated and does not involve multiple eyewitnesses, as Graham and Johnson were the only people present on the night of July 7.
He questioned prosecutors’ plan to call up to 60 witnesses during the trial and whether that many people would have pertinent and substantial testimony to share.
Baucus said the prosecution plans to significantly decrease that number before trial, and those witnesses would include fact and scientific witnesses, law enforcement officers, and acquaintances of Graham and Johnson.
In consideration of the volume of work and short staffing at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Molloy did push back the deadline for discovery items to be submitted to Oct. 31.
He also ordered that attorneys not talk to the media until the trial concludes.
“The case will be tried here in an open court,” he said.
Until then, Graham remains under house arrest in Kalispell, where she has been since being released from custody on her own recognizance Sept. 12. According to the terms of her house arrest, Graham is under radio frequency monitoring and can leave her mother’s home only for religious services; medical, substance abuse or mental health treatment; attorney visits; court appearances; and court-ordered obligations. She also must avoid contact with others who are alleged victims, potential witnesses or co-defendants.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch also ordered Graham to undergo a mental evaluation and follow all recommendations stemming from its conclusions.
Authorities arrested Graham on Sept. 9. Johnson was reported missing July 8, at which time Graham said she had seen her newlywed husband leave in a dark car with out-of-state license plates.
On the evening of July 11, Graham told park rangers she had found Johnson’s body near The Loop trail, just off Glacier Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road.
When a park ranger said it was odd that she had found her husband’s body, Graham replied that Johnson often would go to Glacier to drive fast with out-of-state friends and that it was a place he wanted to see before he died, according to court documents.
Later, she told authorities that she had been with Johnson on the trail, and that they had been arguing when he allegedly grabbed her arm.
“After removing Johnson’s hand from her arm, Graham stated she could have just walked away, but due to her anger, she pushed Johnson with both hands in the back, and as a result, he fell face first off the cliff,” the affidavit said.
Michael Donahoe, senior litigator with Federal Defenders of Montana and Graham’s counsel, has said those actions were in self-defense and the affidavit is misleading.
A grand jury found enough cause to formally indict Graham and did so Oct. 3, increasing the initial second-degree murder charge to a charge of first-degree murder.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Graham faces mandatory life imprisonment. The second-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of life in jail. Both charges also carry a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release.
Jurors could convict Graham of either murder charge, but not both, or could find her not guilty of both.