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Jordan Graham Trial Gets Underway in Missoula
Federal judge expects trial to take a week
Jordan Graham exits the Russell Smith Federal Courthouse in Missoula. - Contributed photo by Stephan Ferry
 MISSOULA – Five months after she allegedly pushed her new husband off a cliff in Glacier National Park, Jordan Graham appeared in federal court in Missoula on Dec. 9. Graham, 22, of Kalispell, is charged with murdering Cody Johnson, also of Kalispell, on July 7 and making false statements to authorities about what happened that evening along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

On Monday, a jury of eight men and six women, including two alternates, was selected; the jurors heard opening statements by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean and federal public defender Andy Nelson. Two witnesses were also called to the stand and U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said he hopes to get the case to the jury by Friday, Dec. 13.

Graham has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making false statements.

During opening statements, McLean told the jury that the prosecution would offer evidence showing that Graham meant to kill her new husband on July 7.

“The evidence will give you a window into her mindset before and after she pushed Cody off a cliff,” he said. “You will hear recordings of her saying she had never been that emotional. You will hear her say she could have walked away.”

The defense countered the claim that Graham planned to kill Johnson and painted a picture of a “child-like” person who was immature and wasn’t ready for marriage. But regardless of her mindset, what happened in Glacier National Park was an accident, they said. The reason she lied to authorities, Nelson insisted, was that she was afraid no one would believe her side of the story and that she would be arrested.

“She invented lies. The evidence will show she tried to run away from the reality, like a rabbit,” Nelson said. “And once she told the lies, she was trapped, like a mouse in a maze.”

Johnson had been reported missing on July 8. In the following days, Graham concocted a story that her 25-year-old husband of eight days had gone off with friends and had not returned. As the investigation into Johnson’s death continued, Graham created an email account to try and confuse authorities, according to McLean. On July 10 an email account was created from the IP address at Graham’s parents’ home. From that account, Graham allegedly sent herself an email under the name “Tony,” which she later showed police. It said, “we took a ride with Cody, he went for a hike and fell. He’s definitely dead. Call off the police.”

On July 11, Graham and some friends from her church went to the park and she found Johnson’s body floating in a shallow pool of water far below The Loop. The discovery further raised suspicions. The prosecution submitted a photo of Johnson’s body as evidence in the trial and showed the image to the jury during opening statements. The following week, Graham was being interviewed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who showed her security camera images of Graham and Johnson driving into the West Glacier entrance of the park. She then admitted that she was with Johnson when he died, and that her previous statements were false.

According to the defense, the two had been arguing on a small ledge below The Loop when Johnson grabbed Graham’s arm. She says she quickly removed his hand and pushed him away at which point he fell off the cliff.

“Arguing on this small ledge was like arguing in a telephone booth,” Nelson said, describing a scenario in which Johnson fell by accident.

Following opening statements, the prosecution called Jennifer Weber, a friend of Johnson’s, to the stand. Weber said many of Johnson’s friends had reservations about Graham and the relationship, and that she rarely spent time with them in the months before the wedding. Those reservations continued during the June 29 ceremony.

“She cried while walking down the aisle,” Weber said. “But there was not a lot of emotion during the vows and she looked at the ground more than Cody.”

Next up was Kimberly Martinez, Graham’s maid-of-honor and self-described “big sister.” For more than an hour, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus and Martinez went through a long series of text messages between Graham and her friend exchanged in the days preceding Cody’s death and the immediate hours following it.

The text messages paint an image of a woman who almost instantly regretted getting married.

“Totally just had a meltdown. I’m completely second guessing everything,” Graham wrote on June 30, the day after the wedding. “I don’t know if all of this was the right thing to do. So much happened last night ... I just don’t know.”

She also confided in Martinez that she started to second-guess her marriage to Johnson even before the wedding.

“After we had been dating for about three months I was the happiest I have ever been in a long time and I stayed like that until just a few weeks ago, then I don’t know what happened. I would go home every night and just cry,” she wrote on July 1.

“I’ve never cried this much in my entire life,” Graham said on July 3. “I’m to the point of almost not wanting to live.”

Graham also said she was reluctant to be intimate with Johnson and that she often avoided sex with him.

Martinez insisted that Graham and Johnson talk about the issues they were facing in the nascent marriage. On July 7 Graham told her friend that they were going to talk. That evening she texted Martinez and said if she didn’t hear from her later that night that something had happened. That evening Johnson fell to his death in Glacier.

At 10:51 p.m., July 7, Graham sent Martinez a series of texts.

“Now I’m freaking (out),” she wrote.

“I don’t even know what to do right now,” she wrote, as she drove back from Glacier National Park.

During the conversation, Graham hinted that something had gone wrong during their conversation.

“Dude, I’m freaking out. I’m about to go for a walk or something. Jump off a freaking bridge. Idk (I don’t know) I’ve lost it,” she wrote.

She eventually admitted her role in Johnson’s death to an FBI agent after she was confronted with a photograph depicting her husband’s car, with a man and a woman inside the gates of Glacier Park. She maintains the fall was an accident.

Shortly before 5 p.m. the court went in for an evening recess. Court will reconvene at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday.
 
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