On the eve of her sentencing for the murder of her husband, federal prosecutors asked a judge Wednesday to deny a Kalispell newlywed’s request to withdraw her guilty plea.
Jordan Linn Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder near the conclusion of her murder trial last December, admitting that she pushed her husband to his death from a cliff in Glacier National Park.
But late Tuesday, Graham’s public defenders filed a motion to withdraw that plea.
Federal prosecutors responded Wednesday, contending that Graham was simply panicked after reading a description of the average sentences – in Montana and across the nation – for federal murder convictions.
During December’s trial, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that there was enough evidence for the jury to make a determination on both first-degree and second-degree murder, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean wrote in his response.
Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for the dismissal of a first-degree murder charge. Now she has changed her mind, McLean said.
“Having reviewed the final presentence report and this court’s order describing the average sentences in Montana and across the nation for murder, the defendant has now changed her mind on the eve of sentencing,” McLean wrote.
In an order filed Tuesday, Molloy wrote that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s compiled federal sentencing statistics for fiscal year 2012, the mean length of imprisonment for murder was 21 years nationally, 21 1/2 years in 9th U.S. Circuit courts, and 17 1/2 years at the state level.
Defense attorneys have asked Molloy to sentence Graham to 10 years in prison, with five years of supervised release, while prosecutors asked for life imprisonment or at least 50 years.
In Tuesday’s motion to withdraw Graham’s guilty plea, federal public defender Michael Donahoe contended that prosecutors reneged on the intent of December’s plea agreement by suggesting in their sentencing memorandum that Graham murdered Johnson with intent and premeditation – instead of reckless disregard for life.
“The government promised to dismiss first-degree murder (and false statements), not ignore all the evidence presented at trial in making sentencing recommendations to the court,” McLean said.
By alluding that Graham pushed Johnson with intent, the government is asking the judge to sentence her to life imprisonment on first-degree murder, Donahoe countered.
Offering Graham a plea agreement on the brink of jury deliberations allowed prosecutors to avoid a possible defeat and Graham to avoid the possibility of a mandatory life sentence had the jury found her guilty of first-degree murder, hence motivation for Graham to take the deal, he said.
However, for prosecutors to ask for a sentence of life in prison for second-degree murder based on premeditation – the first-degree murder charge which was dropped – is against the “spirit” of the plea agreement, Donahoe added.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Molloy had not ruled on the motion. Graham is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court for sentencing Thursday morning.