HELENA, Mont. — The bride was having second thoughts eight days after the wedding, sparking an argument between the newlywed couple that carried from their Kalispell, Mont., home to a popular trail in Glacier National Park.
Only Jordan Graham left the park alive the night of July 7.
Now it will be up to a jury to decide what happened and whether the 22-year-old woman should be convicted of murder in the death of Cody Johnson.
Graham’s trial begins Monday in U.S. District Court in Missoula with jury selection and is expected to last one to two weeks with dozens of expert witnesses — though no eyewitnesses — slated to testify.
Federal prosecutors will attempt to convince jurors that Graham deliberately pushed Johnson to his death, then made up a story about how he was last seen driving off with friends. Graham’s federal public defenders will ask jurors to believe that while Graham thought she married too young, she loved Johnson and was only trying to remove his hand from her arm when he fell off the steep cliff.
Graham has pleaded not guilty to murder and making a false statement.
Graham was indicted in October, and there have been a flurry of motions in the lead-up to trial. In one of the most recent filings, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy last week (Dec. 2) rejected an attempt by Graham’s attorneys to have the indictment dismissed because of an FBI agent’s interrogation techniques.
Graham initially told investigators that Johnson, 25, had driven away with friends the night of July 7. Three days later, she led park rangers to his body so the search would be called off “and the cops will be out of it,” according to prosecutors’ court filings.
Her discovery of the body prompted investigators to call Graham back for further questioning under FBI investigator Stacey Smiedala on July 16. Graham agreed to be interviewed without a lawyer present and to take a polygraph test, though one was never administered, according to prosecutors.
Smiedala questioned Graham for about 1 ½ hours without recording the conversation, then recorded two shorter statements by her.
In the recorded portion, Graham said she and Johnson argued about whether they should have waited longer to get married, and they took that argument from their Kalispell home to Glacier park, according to a transcript.
Graham said Johnson grabbed her arm at one point. She said she knocked his arm off and pushed him in one motion, causing him to fall from a steep cliff near the Loop trail.
“I think I didn’t realize that one push would mean for sure you were over,” Graham said, according to the transcript.
Graham attorney Michael Donahoe said in his request to dismiss the indictment that Smiedala didn’t record the first 1 ½ hours of his interrogation of Graham so that he could “shape” her statement for when it was recorded later.
Molloy rejected Donahoe’s request to dismiss the indictment but said “the procedure employed by the FBI in interviewing Graham creates serious questions concerning the potential for shaping or manipulating interview evidence to fit the prosecution’s perspective” about what happened the night of Johnson’s death.
Smiedala has engaged in the same interview procedure in at least two previous cases, Molloy wrote. While that is permissible in federal investigations, “the attempt to use this strategic maneuver by shaping a recorded interview impacts the reliability and fairness of evidence presented to the jury,” Molloy wrote.
Molloy said that if there is testimony about Graham’s unrecorded statements to Smiedala the jury will be told to weigh the evidence with caution and that the FBI could have recorded the interview and chose not to.