Prosecutors are seeking life behind bars for Jordan Linn Graham, the Kalispell newlywed who pushed her husband to his death last July 7 in Glacier National Park.
Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder near the conclusion of her murder trial in December, admitting that she pushed Cody Johnson off a cliff along Glacier’s Loop trail. The couple had been married just eight days.
Graham’s defense attorneys are seeking a significantly more lenient sentence of 10 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release for the woman, who is awaiting sentencing in the Missoula County jail.
Both sides submitted their arguments late Tuesday in sentencing memorandums to U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, who will preside over Graham’s sentencing hearing March 27 in Missoula.
In his 28-page memorandum, prosecutor Zeno B. Baucus described Graham as disturbingly unremorseful after Johnson’s death.
Nine days passed before she admitted to FBI agent Stacy Smielda that she had indeed pushed Johnson off a ridge with both hands after a heated dispute about their nascent marriage.
Instead of getting help that night or even checking on his welfare, Graham drove Johnson’s car out of the park toward Kalispell, sending text messages to friends along the way. When she arrived at the couple’s new townhome, she wrote upbeat posts on Facebook about seeing an acquaintance on television, the documents stated.
“Such behavior is consistent with someone that does not appreciate the seriousness of her actions and has the mental wherewithal to engage in similar conduct again in the future,” Baucus warned.
Baucus also reiterated prosecutors’ contention that Graham actually planned her husband’s murder.
Johnson was found in a stream below the steep ridge without his wedding ring, and Graham used Johnson’s only set of keys to drive his car out of the park.
Baucus believes that means Graham had removed the ring and taken her husband’s keys before killing him, undercutting her claim that she pushed him instinctively after he grabbed her while they were walking along the trail.
Several witnesses testified Johnson told them Graham had a surprise planned for the night of his death. Graham told law enforcement later the surprise entailed planning a get-together for Johnson and his friends.
Baucus said there is no evidence to support that theory.
“Cody ultimately experienced a surprise that evening, but it was one from which he did not return,” Baucus wrote.
At a minimum, the court should impose a 50-year sentence on Graham, but life in prison would be more appropriate for the 22-year-old, he said.
In the defense’s 44-page sentencing memorandum, attorney Michael Donahoe argued that Johnson’s murder was an accident and that should factor into the judge’s decision.
“By her guilty plea to second-degree murder it has been conclusively established that the defendant committed an extremely reckless but nevertheless unintentional act,” he said.
Donahoe argued that there was no evidence that Graham had kidnapped or forced Johnson into the park the night of July 7, writing that it was “implausible to think that Mr. Johnson made his way down to the steep ledge ... under anything but his own power.”
An emotional discussion about a floundering new relationship in a very dangerous place were “all the ingredients of a tragedy in the making,” Donahoe wrote.
Further, he argued that Graham’s confession to Smielda was as much “a clarification of her previous distorted statements to the Kalispell police as it was an accurate admission of guilt.” And her false statement to law enforcement prior to her interview with Smielda didn’t hinder the investigation, but rather added to it, he argued.
Donahoe doesn’t attempt to deny the fact that Graham intentionally misled law enforcement, but said the pieces of truth “embedded within her false narrative” helped the investigation come to a quick conclusion.
Donahoe also disputed a pretrial mental health evaluation that characterized Graham as shallow and entitled.
Calling the evaluation illegal and irrelevant, Donahoe said the adjectives were not a medical diagnosis and could be used to describe “many American 22-year-olds.”
Instead, Graham is grieving the loss of a loved one, he wrote.
“Defendant has confided to the undersigned that a day does not go by that she doesn’t think of her husband and what might have been,” he wrote.
Included in the defense’s submission to the court are 10 letters from Graham’s friends and relatives, urging Molloy to be lenient when deciding her fate. The letters describe Graham as a meek, Christian woman who was responsible and loved taking care of children.
Graham’s mother, Lindele Rutledge, asked the judge to be merciful so that her only daughter may get out of prison, get a college education and become a “better member of society.”
“Jordan is truly remorseful for what she has done,” she said. “She has stated that to me in letters, through our phone conversations and during visitation times.”
In his four-page letter to Molloy, Graham’s stepfather, Steven Rutledge, described Graham as a non-confrontational young woman and a model young adult who encouraged other young women to live by the pillars of their faith by obeying their parents and studying the Bible.
“Jordan never smoked cigarettes, did drugs, drank or even said a foul word,” he said.
He also explained that Graham had “kept herself until she was married” and wrote that Graham wouldn’t “date anyone that had not made a profession of faith.”
Rutledge said the pair never lived together or spent a night together before their wedding night. His letter further divulged that Graham had quit taking classes at community college to “devote her life to a new life as the wife of Cody Johnson.”
“Jordan wanted to settle down and just be a mother and a housewife after she and Cody were married,” he wrote.
However, letters from Graham’s former friends submitted by the prosecution depict a more alarming image of the woman. Included in the six letters is an impassioned plea from Graham’s bridesmaid and former “best friend,” Kimberly Martinez, asking Molloy for justice.
Martinez cited the 13th Commandment forbidding murder and indicated Graham was deceitful throughout their three-year friendship.
She continues to lie about Johnson’s death, Martinez said.
“Your Honor, to be straightforward, many of us have nightmares about Jordan,” Martinez wrote. “I am one that doesn’t sleep well knowing that she and her family had no problem lying in your court.”
A former friend of Graham’s family, Cyndi Blasdel, wrote she now sleeps with the lights on. Blasdel suggested that Graham was unwanted by her own family and she liked to include Graham in Blasdel family activities as a result.
But from an early age, Graham became a “quiet instigator” who drove wedges between people and intentionally ruined relationships. Blasdel also claimed Graham wrongly accused several young men of rape and abuse, and her actions became increasingly erratic as she and Johnson became engaged.
“Her bad behavior has escalated to murder,” Blasdel wrote. “This was not an accident. This was premeditated murder.”