A Kalispell bride knowingly killed her husband of eight days with premeditation and malice, according to a grand jury indictment filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
The Missoula grand jury formally indicted 22-year-old Jordan Linn Graham on charges of first- and second-degree murder for allegedly pushing 25-year-old Cody Lee Johnson to his death in Glacier National Park last July.
Graham was arrested Sept. 9 after federal prosecutors filed a complaint and supporting affidavit, alleging second-degree murder. She was not formally charged until Thursday’s grand jury indictment, which included three charges – two counts of murder and one of making false statements to authorities.
Second-degree murder is a lesser included offense of first-degree murder. The first-degree murder charge contends that Johnson’s killing was premeditated; second-degree murder does not require premeditation.
Graham can be convicted of either murder charge, but not both. Or she can be found not guilty of both.
She also was charged with knowingly making false statements to the National Park Service, saying that Johnson’s “car buddies from Washington probably came and got him” on the night of July 7. “He always takes his out-of-state friends” to Glacier Park, Graham allegedly told rangers.
However, “in truth and fact, as Jordan Linn Graham, then and there well knew, she was with Cody Johnson” when he last went to the park, the indictment said.
Johnson was reported missing to Kalispell police on July 8.
On July 11, Graham told a park ranger that she had found her husband’s body at the bottom of a cliff on The Loop trail, just off Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The ranger “commented to Graham he thought it was unusual that she had found the body,” court papers said. “Graham replied, ‘It was a place he wanted to see before he died,’ and, ‘He would come up here with friends to drive fast when his friends were visiting from out of state.’ ”
But federal prosecutors told a different story.
The affidavit filed in support of their original complaint said that on July 16 Graham admitted lying to authorities about the disappearance of her husband.
Instead of him leaving Kalispell with his “car buddies,” Graham said she and Johnson argued on the evening of July 7, and decided to travel to Glacier Park. She was having second thoughts about the marriage; he was surprised and angered by the admission.
“Once there, they walked on The Loop hiking trail for a while and were arguing,” the affidavit said. “Then they walked to the other side of the trail to an area that was very steep and proceed(ed) down the rocks near a stump. Graham stated their argument intensified.”
Graham allegedly said that she turned to walk away, but Johnson grabbed her by her arm.
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“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 complaint said.
An autopsy on July 19 confirmed Johnson’s injuries were consistent with a fall from a cliff.
After nearly two months, Graham was arrested and then released on her own recognizance later the same week. She was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and has been under house arrest at her mother’s home in Kalispell since Sept. 12.
Graham’s public defender, Michael Donahoe, said in an earlier court hearing that her actions were made in self-defense and that the affidavit is misleading.
The push that sent Johnson to his death was not a separate motion, Donahoe contended.
“This is all one motion, this grabbing, this pushing,” he said, accusing prosecutors of overcharging Graham and of using the media to win over the court of public opinion.
“And it’s not right,” he said.
Donahoe admitted that Graham did partake in some deception.
“But they were post-event mistakes,” he said, not indications of malice and premeditation.
Donahoe could not be reached for comment following Thursday’s indictment.
A friend of Johnson’s family, Tracey Maness, said Thursday evening that friends and family can’t get him back, but the next best thing is having his widow held accountable.
“Everyone is thrilled the grand jury did the right thing and Jordan will face trial for her crime,” she said.
The first-degree murder charge carries a penalty of mandatory life imprisonment, while the second-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of life in jail. Both charges also carry a $250,000 fine and five years supervised release.
Graham is set to appear for arraignment in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Friday afternoon.