Friends of a Kalispell newlywed accused of pushing her husband off a cliff in Glacier National Park recounted Tuesday how little emotion she showed after finding his body.
Jordan Linn Graham, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making false statements to law enforcement after the July 7 death of 25-year-old Cody Lee Johnson.
During the second day of trial Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Missoula, prosecutors called a dozen witnesses to testify to the events leading up to and following Johnson’s disappearance, and showed hours of recorded police interviews with Graham.
Last July 9, several friends helped Graham search for Johnson in the Hungry Horse area. At one point, “she was giggling,” and didn’t seem concerned about the search, said Amy Hess, a mutual friend of the couple from church.
Graham’s half-brother, 16-year-old Michael Rutledge, helped Graham search for Johnson on several occasions.
The evening of July 10, Rutledge, Graham and several friends went to Glacier to search for Johnson, driving his Audi. They traveled Going-to-the-Sun Road slowly, looking for signs of crashes, Rutledge testified.
They stopped at The Loop, but it was too dark to search extensively, he said.
After school the next day, another group, which included Graham’s mother, assembled and headed back to Glacier, hanging missing person posters at several places along the way and in Apgar Village.
Then, Graham insisted they return to The Loop because she had a feeling they would find Johnson there. This time, Graham walked down a steep, rocky area and spotted Johnson, Rutledge said.
When she cried out that she had found the body, Rutledge scrambled down to his sister and “lost it,” he said, breaking into tears in court while Graham did the same.
Rutledge expressed his anger that Graham hadn't told the truth.
“She could have told us the truth. She told one lie, was asked to tell the truth, and she said it again,” he choked out between sobs. “And she had to keep adding more lies to cover it up. And that’s maybe why I was mad.”
Rutledge was so distraught after seeing Johnson’s body in the ravine that he could barely walk, testified Hannah Sherrill, a friend of Graham’s.
Graham, by comparison, was stoic.
“She didn’t cry or anything,” said Sherrill, who knows Graham through work in child care.
Later that night, Graham said, “Now that we’ve found the body we can have the funeral and the cops can be out of it,” Sherrill testified.
Graham’s friend and bridesmaid, Cecilia Lewellen, testified Tuesday afternoon that Graham is typically reserved and didn’t show much emotion when Johnson was found.
While Lewellen drove to the Lake McDonald Lodge area to get help, Graham seemed to babble.
Lewellen, although concentrating on driving, said she heard Graham say, “He slipped and fell. Yep, he slipped,” and mention that now that Johnson’s body had been found the detectives could get out of her business.
Park ranger Steven Powers took Graham’s statement and interviewed her after Johnson’s body was found.
Initially, she appeared unemotional but became fidgety when he asked how Johnson got to the park if his vehicle wasn’t in The Loop parking area.
“I found it odd that she had gone to such a specific area and found the body,” Powers testified.
He added that Graham said Johnson had told her it was a place he wanted to see before he died and that he always took his car buddies there to drive fast.
Graham had been questioned several times by law enforcement officers by the time Johnson’s body was found, and recorded statements shown in court Tuesday highlighted inconsistencies in her recounting of events.
On July 9, she told Kalispell Police Sgt. Chad Zimmerman that on the day of Johnson’s death they had been to church, then lunch at his mom’s, spent the afternoon at the lake, returned to church and then had dinner at Dairy Queen with other congregation members.
About 9 p.m., Johnson called a friend named “Jose” who owed him money and became upset, but she and Johnson didn’t fight – they had only been married a week, she reminded Zimmerman.
While she was on her way to get her cellphone charger from work, Johnson sent her a text message at about 10 p.m. saying that he was going for a joyride with buddies from out of state, Graham said in the recorded interview. She saw the vehicle pulling away as she drove toward their home.
She assumed Johnson meant he had gone with the friends to Glacier, Plains, Libby or Hungry Horse.
She didn’t realize he was missing the next morning because she assumed he had gone to work, although she also told detectives that Johnson’s noise often woke her in the mornings. Johnson’s friend Cameron Fredrickson told her he had contacted police and that she didn’t need to, she said.
When Zimmerman said he felt Graham wasn’t telling him the whole truth and pressed for more information, she reiterated that police should look in one of the four areas she had mentioned.
The next day, Graham returned to the police station on her own accord to share an email she had received from a “Tony S.”
In the email, “Tony” said Cody had gone for a ride with car buddies, taken a hike when they stopped, had fallen and was dead. Through Google records, it was determined that the email account had been created that same day from an IP address was registered to the home of Steve Rutledge, Graham’s stepfather.
When asked by Detective Cory Clarke to talk about the events leading up to Johnson’s disappearance, she said they had argued because Johnson was taking out his anger at “Jose” on her. He went to the garage and she remained in the house. She received a text from Johnson saying he was taking his buddies for a joyride before they had to go home.
When Detective Melissa Smith joined the interview, Graham said she hadn’t mentioned the fight earlier because Johnson had told her never to tell others when they argued.
In each rehash of the events, Graham said it was extremely unusual for Johnson to leave without his phone, but could not produce the text message because he routinely cleared his phone’s history.
Graham said she assumed Johnson had gone to drive fast on a twisty road and was worried he had crashed in Glacier.
“My gut tells me that if he were somewhere where he could get ahold of me, he would,” she said.
Clarke was called when Johnson’s body was found and traveled to the park to help investigate the scene.
The morning of July 12, he and several others descended to the river at the bottom of the ravine and found a shoe matching the description Graham had given of what Johnson was last seen wearing.
About 500 feet upstream, a black cloth was found.
While District Judge Donald Molloy allowed photos of the cloth to be introduced as evidence, he agreed with defense attorneys that the cloth itself should not be because of how it was handled during recovery and because the cloth wouldn’t have shown anything that the photos did not.
When located, Johnson was lying face-down upstream from the shoe and cloth in a pool of water about 20 feet below solid ground. His other shoe and a sock were found in a rocky area above the pool, and his shirt had rolled up, revealing part of his back, Clarke said.
Later, in a July 16 interview with an FBI agent, Graham admitted pushing her husband to his death, although only a portion of her statements was recorded.
Prosecutors have maintained that she could have walked away from the argument that led to Johnson grabbing her arm. Instead, she allegedly pushed Johnson in the back over a cliff and to his death.
Graham’s attorneys say she acted in self-defense.
The trial resumes at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday and is expected to last at least through Friday.