Jordan Linn Graham will spend the next 30 years in prison for pushing her husband of eight days off a cliff – and to his death – in Glacier National Park.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy sentenced the Kalispell woman to 365 months in federal prison Thursday, with no possibility of parole, for her admission to second-degree murder.
The sentence will be followed by five years of supervised release. During her incarceration, Graham is prohibited from directly or indirectly profiting from divulging information about the murder, Molloy stipulated.
Additionally, Graham must undergo mental health treatment, pay about $16,910 in restitution to defray the cost of recovering her husband’s body, and pay a $100 special assessment fee.
After sitting through numerous pretrial court proceedings, as well as four days of a trial, Molloy said he concluded Graham is “very strange” and provided irrational explanations for her actions.
“She was a normal person, at least on the surface,” the judge said. “But how does a normal person then kill her husband of eight days” — and then lie and mislead law enforcement?
Only two people know what happened the evening of July 7, when Graham pushed 25-year-old Cody Lee Johnson off a 300-foot cliff near The Loop trail in Glacier Park. And the one who can still talk has not been truthful, Molloy said.
“I don’t think she’s been entirely truthful in anything she’s said,” he said.
The couple had been arguing after Graham expressed doubts about their fledgling marriage. It wasn’t until July 11 that Graham led a search party to the site of Johnson’s body. More than a week later, Graham confessed to an FBI agent that she had pushed Johnson in a moment of anger.
In October, a grand jury found grounds to charge her with first-degree and second-degree murder, as well as a third charge of making false statements. Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as part of a plea agreement after nearly four days of trial in December.
Her plea left Molloy to determine a sufficient, but not excessive, sentence. Prosecutors asked for life in prison, while defense attorneys asked for 10 years with five years of supervised release.
Statute allows a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while guidelines based on Graham’s criminal history and the nature of the offense give a range of 292 to 365 months.
Prior to sentencing, Molloy said Graham has shown no remorse for killing Johnson, or any respect for law enforcement and society.
She neither sought help for Johnson nor reported the incident to park rangers or police — or anyone — and instead repeatedly lied to law enforcement, family, friends and community members about the events of that night, Molloy said.
“She had one concern, herself,” he said.
Instead of being remorseful for taking a human life, Graham seemed more apologetic for causing an inconvenience, even during her address to the court during sentencing, Molloy said.
“I kept waiting for her to say she was sorry she killed Cody,” he said. “But I didn’t hear that.”
Nor did she accept responsibility for killing Cody in a letter she wrote to Molloy prior to the sentencing, he said.
Throughout court proceedings, including four days of trial before she accepted a plea deal, Graham showed a similar lack of emotion.
At some point in the process, “I would expect there might be a modicum of emotion, which did not exist,” he said.
During Thursday’s three-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Graham made a rare display of emotion and addressed Molloy and Johnson’s family through tears.
“I still love Cody,” Graham said, adding that if he were still alive she would tell him so every day.
“I ask myself daily why I didn’t make different decisions,” Graham said, but she has yet to come up with an answer.
“It was a moment of complete shock and panic. … I have no other explanation,” she said.
Instead of building a life with Johnson, she took God’s greatest blessing from his mother, Sherry Johnson, Graham said. “I can’t imagine the amount of pain that I caused you.”
Life, Graham said, is precious.
“It’s a special gift, and I need to learn to cherish it,” she said, adding that it’s too bad it took a tragedy for her to learn a simple lesson.
Prosecutors questioned Graham’s remorse and her story of what transpired that night in Glacier. Pushing Johnson was part of a cold, calculated plan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean said.
Throughout hours of interviews with law enforcement officers, Graham was “chillingly calm,” McLean said.
No alcohol or drugs were involved in the incident, he said. “She was thinking very clearly.”
Johnson must have felt betrayal, terror and excruciating pain after Graham pushed him, McLean said.
Then, while her husband lay in a pool of water at the bottom of a cliff, Graham drove away in his car, texting friends, McLean said. “She did not know that Cody was dead. He could have been alive for all she knew. Yet, she drove away and left him there for many days before discovering the body.”
Four of Johnson’s family members, including his mother Sherry Johnson, testified before the packed courtroom, and all four requested that Molloy impose the maximum sentence on the 22-year-old.
“Today and every day I feel like I have a broken heart,” Sherry Johnson said.
She tearfully recalled moving from California to Kalispell in 2002, seeking a safer environment in Montana to raise her only son — who was a teenager at the time.
Her dream was to be a grandmother, she said. She recounted the day of her son’s wedding to Graham and said it felt like she and her son were starting a new journey.
“This isn’t the way our journey was supposed to end,” she said before asking Molloy to sentence Graham to life in prison.
Cody’s aunts and uncles were even more forthright with their feelings. Tim Manning, Cody’s uncle, said that although he doesn’t share his nephew’s religious beliefs, he believes in the biblical mantra an “eye for an eye.”
“I believe Jordan should rot in prison,” Manning said, firmly.
Celeste Watson, Cody’s aunt, said she still gets chills when she remembers the day Sherry Johnson called to tell her they had found her son’s body. She recounted how Graham had shown no remorse for her behavior throughout the days, weeks and months that followed Cody’s death.
“There are only two people who know what happened … one of whom is still making false statements about it,” she said.
Jerry Watson, the victim’s uncle, recalled a family trip to Glacier National Park, but said the family could no longer return to enjoy the magnificent beauty. Graham had turned the national treasure into “a gravesite,” he said.
“Although the hanging tree is no longer acceptable in this society … neither is murder,” he said.
Though the family didn’t get the sentence they were seeking, they said they are content Graham is now serving time behind bars. Sherry Johnson and her siblings stopped to talk to the media briefly following the hearing. The heartbroken mother said she has some closure after being able to address Molloy and the court.
“We still don’t know the real truth of what happened,” Celeste Watson said, speaking for her sister-in-law. “But we have to accept what went on here today and move forward.”
In his pre-sentencing remarks, Molloy said Graham is a dishonest person who showed little remorse for killing her husband and has been “impervious to the human consequences of what she did.”
“I have reflected a great deal about this case,” Molloy said. “I’ve tried to take into account everything. I have also sat through the entire trial and observed Ms. Graham’s behavior.”
Molloy traced Graham’s bizarre behavior after she pushed her husband off the cliff, hinting that a degree of premeditation was present when she murdered Johnson.
After sending her husband plummeting to his death, Graham climbed up from the precipice and got in her husband’s beloved car with both her husband’s keys and his cell phone in hand.
She then sent text messages to friends about an upcoming church event, boasting about her dance moves before immediately embarking on what prosecutors’ called a “nine-day campaign” to intentionally deceive friends, relatives, and law enforcement about her involvement in her husband’s murder.
“I just don’t find Graham credible,” Molloy said. “She lied from the beginning.”
Earlier in the day, Molloy rejected Graham’s last-minute bid to withdraw her plea agreement and enter into a new trial. Graham’s attorneys filed a motion to withdraw the admission of guilty Tuesday, arguing the plea deal offered by prosecutors was “in bad faith” once they sought life in prison as Graham’s punishment.
But Molloy also rejected prosecutors’ request of 50 years to life in prison, settling on a punishment that he believed was fair. To the packed courtroom, Molloy offered several gruesome examples of murder cases in which the crime was much more severe and the defendant served life in prison.
Graham will serve 30 years in prison, he decided.
At the conclusion of Molloy’s remarks, Graham was handcuffed and taken away by U.S. marshals — again showing little emotion
“We were hoping for 50 to life, but we are happy that she will be behind bars,” Celeste Watson after watching Graham leave. “We will be able to move on a little bit.”
Graham’s attorney, federal public defender Michael Donahoe, argued throughout the hearing that Graham’s actions were based on the fear of a “shallow” and “entitled” individual.
“She’s a young individual — one who displays unique characteristics that seem to be of her generation,” he said.
She left clues for detectives and investigators that ultimately led them to the truth of what happened on the night of Johnson’s murder, Donahoe offered.
For example, on July 11, she led her friends and family to his body, lying in a creek 300 feet below the creek from which she pushed him.
But even Donahoe acknowledged Graham has not been truthful.
“Will we ever know exactly — with precision — what happened on the ledge that evening?” he wondered. “Probably not.”
He asked Molloy to consider the so-called clues in delivering a sentence.
In a press conference following the hearing, prosecutors indicated that Graham would likely file an appeal and only has two weeks to do so.
But Donahoe said he is unsure if his client will appeal. He said it would have to be discussed at a later time; he was not certain of Graham’s opinion on the matter.
“You would have to give some considered thought of whether there was an error or whether that error was worthy to be considered on appeal,” he said.