A Kalispell newlywed accused of pushing her husband to his death in Glacier National Park should be released from custody and undergo a mental health evaluation pending trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch concluded Thursday.
Jordan Linn Graham was released from the Missoula County jail shortly thereafter, presumably bound for her mother’s home in Kalispell.
At about the same time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a motion, asking again that the woman not be released and citing the risk she poses to the community. That request was not considered because of the lateness of the hour.
However, at midafternoon Thursday, Judge Lynch ruled that the government had conceded 22-year-old Graham is not a flight risk and “has not met its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community.”
Therefore, the judge said, Graham must be released.
“The 9th Circuit has repeatedly reminded the district courts ‘of the presumption of innocence and its corollary that the right to bail should be denied only for the strongest of reasons,’ ” Lynch wrote in his nine-page order.
While under house arrest, she must submit to radio frequency monitoring, according to a separate court order that outlines the conditions of her release.
According to prosecutors and the FBI, Graham pushed her husband of eight days, 25-year-old Cody Lee Johnson, off a cliff in Glacier Park on the night of July 7. They had been married on June 29.
The Kalispell couple had been arguing that night of the incident. Graham had expressed doubts about their marriage to a friend and said she planned to talk with Johnson, according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Steven Liss.
Initially, Graham told law enforcement officers that she and Johnson had been at dinner with friends and upon returning to their residence she left to get a cellphone charger from another location. When she returned, she saw Johnson getting into a dark-colored vehicle with out-of-state plates.
Then on July 11, Graham called dispatchers to report finding her husband’s body at the bottom of a cliff below The Loop trail, off Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. She voluntarily went to the Kalispell Police Department on July 16, and confessed to pushing Johnson and causing him to fall face-first off a cliff, Liss testified Wednesday.
Graham was taken into custody Monday for second-degree murder.
The extended period between Graham’s alleged confession and her arrest played into Lynch’s decision to release her pending trial.
“The Government does not point to any evidence that Graham somehow represents more of a danger now than she did in July, at which time the Government opted to continue its investigation without arresting or charging her,” Lynch wrote Thursday.
During a detention hearing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, Graham’s attorneys argued that she is neither a flight nor a safety risk, saying that if she were, she should have been taken into custody sooner.
Neither does Graham have a history of violent or criminal behavior, they said.
Prosecuting attorneys from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Graham is not a flight risk, but that they worried she might harm herself due to the stress of the situation. They cited correspondence between Graham and a friend in which Graham expressed she didn’t want to get up in the morning and that she might be better off dead.
In addition, they asked Lynch to consider the seriousness of the crime and that Graham made several false statements to law enforcement officers during the investigation and might take further steps to cover up the crime if released.
Shortly after Lynch’s decision was released Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kris McLean and Zeno Baucus filed a motion to stay the release and said they plan to file a motion on Friday to revoke it “based upon the risk that she presents to the community, the seriousness of the charged offense, her repeated false statements, and her mental health.”
Before writing his decision, Lynch weighed the nature and circumstances of the offense charged; the weight of evidence against the defendant; Graham’s history and characteristics; and any danger to any person or the community should she be released.
While the seriousness of the crime and evidence weren’t favorable to Graham’s release, her character and family ties to the Kalispell area were, the judge said. Lynch also found that conditions to her release could alleviate any risk she might pose to herself or others – and that the government failed to provide evidence otherwise.
“Thus, the Court has authority to require Graham to obtain either outpatient or inpatient professional mental health treatment, and will impose this condition on her release to alleviate any risk that she might harm herself,” he wrote.
In a separate order, Lynch outlined the conditions of Graham’s release, including that she undergo a mental health evaluation and complete any recommended treatment and take any medications as prescribed.
Johnson family friend Tracey Maness said she is “extremely disappointed” with the decision.
“It’s horrible,” she said, adding she believes Graham will return home and pretend nothing has happened.
“It’s what she’s been doing for the past two months and she doesn’t deserve to be able to do that,” Maness said.
One of Graham’s public defenders, Michael Donahoe, said the decision speaks for itself.
He added Graham will return to Kalispell, where her mother and stepfather live.
While the charge of second-degree murder has been brought by complaint, Graham must still be indicted, and Donahoe said he does not expect her to waive her right to the grand jury process.