WASHINGTON, December 10, 2013—The murder trail of a newlywed bride is underway in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana. Jordan Graham, 22, is accused of pushing her husband off a cliff eight days after they were married. Graham claims the death was an accident and she acted in self-defense.
The trial began Monday, with Graham pleading not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making a false statement to authorities involving the death of her 25-year-old husband, Cody Johnson.
Prosecutors allege that Graham deliberately pushed Johnson face-first from a 200-foot cliff in Glacier National Park on July 7, 2013, shortly after their wedding. She is also accused of lying to friends and authorities after Johnson’s death, initially claiming that her husband had gone on a car trip with friends.
Court documents state that Graham did not initially report her husband’s fall. Instead, Johnson was reported missing only when he failed to show up for work. When first questioned by authorities about her husband’s whereabouts, Graham lied.
Graham then led friends and relatives to Johnson’s body four days later, claiming she wanted to search the area where the body was found because it was a place her husband “wanted to see before he died,” according to CNN.
She subsequently confessed to pushing Johnson off the cliff during an intense argument after he grabbed her arm, but only after FBI agents confronted her with a surveillance photograph of the couple entering the park together in their car, according to the prosecution.
A jury of six women and eight men, including two alternate jurors, will decide whether Graham intended to kill her husband or whether his death was a result of self-defense. The trial is being held in federal court because the death occurred in a national park.
Even though the couple was alone at the time of the incident, dozens of friends, acquaintances and experts are on the witness list. At least 30 witnesses are expected to testify for prosecution.
In opening statements, prosecutors argued that Graham was having doubts over the marriage. They also argued that Graham planned and carried out her husband’s murder, and then lied about it to authorities and friends.
Two of the bride’s friends, Kimberly Martinez and Jennifer Toren, were the first witnesses called to testify Monday. The prosecution’s case began with attorneys presenting text messages the new bride sent to the two women before and after Johnson’s death.
Several of the text messages to Martinez reflected Graham’s doubts about the marriage. A number of text messages state that Johnson had a temper and Graham was afraid of him. One stated that Graham planned to confront her new husband about her marital doubts on July 7, the day of Johnson’s death.
Graham also sent text messages to Martinez about her doubts regarding the couple’s sexual relationship.
“I just know he is gonna wanna do stuff I’m not wanting to,” Graham wrote in one text presented as part of Martinez’s testimony, reported the Helena Independent Record.
Text messages from Graham to Jennifer Toren after Johnson’s death stated that Johnson had gone on a trip with friends.
“The last thing he said to me was that he was going for a drive with some friends that were visiting,” states one message from Graham.
In his opening statement, Graham’s defense attorneys painted a very different picture of their client and the incident. According to assistant federal defender Andrew Nelson, Johnson’s death was an accident and Graham was too scared to come forward because she did not think that anybody would believe her.
Describing her as young and inexperienced—not allowed to date until she was 18, leaving her parent’s home at 21 to live with Johnson—Nelson stated that his client had perhaps married too young.
Nelson argued that on July 7 the couple drove to Glacier National Park and Johnson got out of the car. Nelson said that Johnson climbed onto the ledge of the cliff by stepping over the retaining wall. While standing near a stump, the couple argued and Johnson seized Graham’s arm. Graham spontaneously reacted by pushing him over the stump and off the cliff.
“She started to run from the moment she walked away from the ledge, getting in the car and driving away like a scared rabbit,” said Nelson, according to the Helena Independent Record.
Before the trial, however, the judge ruled that allegations that Graham spoke of killing her mother and stepfather, as well as a black cloth thought to be a blindfold found next to the body, were too prejudicial to be presented to the jury.
Presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy stated in court that he intends to finish the trial by this Friday. Trial resumed at 8:15 local time today.
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