Jordan Graham, a Montana newlywed who reportedly got cold feet after her dream wedding, is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly pushing her husband, Cody Johnson, off a cliff in Glacier National Park and then lying to authorities about his disappearance. She initially told federal investigators that her new husband sent her a text saying he was going for a drive with a friend from out of town, and when she returned home, she saw him leave their house in a dark colored car. Several days later she reportedly confessed that she lied about her story and that Johnson had grabbed her arm during a heated argument, after which, in her anger, she shoved him in the back and off the cliff.
Glacier Park Murder Indictment with first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making a false statement about the death of Cody Lee Johnson in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 7(3), 1111(a) and (b), 1001.
The first-degree murder charge indicates that prosecutors believe Graham premeditated the murder, and it carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison upon conviction, $250,000 fine, and five years supervised release.
Second-degree murder is any form of murder without malice aforethought (commonly referred to as premeditation). These can often be crimes of passion or impulse, or crimes committed after sufficient provocation, which would align with the theory that in the midst of a heated argument Graham snapped and pushed Johnson off of the cliff. A second-degree murder conviction carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, $250,000 fine, and five years supervised release.
The third charge against Graham is for providing false statements to the United States National Park Service in the course of their investigation, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Specifically, the Indictment alleges that Graham “falsely represented that Cody Johnson’s ‘car buddies from Washington probably came and got him. He always takes his out of state friends here,’ when in truth and fact, as JORDAN LINN GRAHAM, then and there well knew, she was with Cody Johnson when he last went to Glacier National Park on July 7,2013….” A conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, $250,000 fine, and three years supervised release.
“You helped me to climb higher for a better view, you’re my safe place to fall, you never let me go!”
These lyrics from songwriter Elizabeth Shea were written specifically for the dream wedding of what appeared to be a young and happy Montana couple. A week after the wedding these words became all too haunting as Cody L. Johnson, the groom, fell to his death from a cliff near a popular trail in Glacier National Park.
The investigation began as a missing person’s but quickly turned into a murder investigation after his new wife, Jordan Graham, lied to investigators and then days later conveniently reported to police that she had found her husband’s body.
At first Graham told investigators that she had no idea where her husband had gone. The new bride said that the couple had dinner with friends on the night of July 7, and on the drive home her husband received a phone call that apparently upset him. According to Graham, when they arrived at their house, she realized her phone was dead, and she had to go pick up her charger from a different location. While on the road she claims her husband texted her saying that he was going for a drive with a friend from out of town. When she arrived home, she said she saw her husband leaving their house in a dark car with Washington State license plates, and that was the last time she saw them.
Initially the disappearance didn’t look like murder. Glacier National Park is full of open land, steep cliffs, and breathtaking views, so it was entirely plausible that a man hiking near the cliffs or driving the winding roads could fall to his death.
However, a possible motive began to form when a close friend of Graham, identified only by her initials K.M., reportedly told investigators that the new bride had confessed to her that she was already having second thoughts about her marriage and planned to confront her new husband about it the night he died.
Graham’s final text to K.M.: “But dead serious if u don’t hear from me at all again tonight, something happened.”
In what appears to be a Jodi Arias type attempt to cover her tracks, a friend identified as A.H. told investigators an email was reportedly sent to Graham July 10, which told her “Johnson had left with three friends, went hiking, had fallen, was dead, and the search should be called off,” according to the charging documents. However, the email account had reportedly been created that same day.
In what could be damning testimony to the defense, A.H. reportedly told investigators that Graham mentioned during church services that Johnson fell off a cliff and died. That was on July 10 and Graham allegedly didn’t “discover” Johnson’s body until July 11.
According to FBI Special Agent Steven Liss, who investigated Johnson’s disappearance and death, Graham confessed to police that her previous story was a lie on July 16, five days after her husband’s body was found. She told investigators that the couple had gone to the popular hiking trail near where Johnson’s body was found and got into a heated argument. At one in point in the argument Graham said Johnson grabbed her arm, and in her anger she pushed her husband in the back and off the cliff where he fell to his death.
Graham was indicted October 3 and charged with first-degree murder and second-degree murder in the death of her husband Cody Johnson, a charge which carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison. She was also charged with providing false statements to the U.S. National Park Service which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Federal Judge Donald Molloy released Graham September 12 as she awaits trial after determining that she was not a danger to the community or a flight risk – the two primary factors in determining whether bail shall be issued. She is placed on house arrest at her parents’ house in Kalispell and will undergo a mental health evaluation.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy has issued a gag order against both the prosecution and defense in this case, stating that “the case will be tried here in an open court.”
Federal prosecutors said they plan to call as many as 60 witnesses during the trial, which they projected to last about two weeks.
In court filings November 9, defense attorney Michael Donahoe said that federal investigators twisted Graham’s words in their over 1 ½ hour interrogation.
“I think I didn’t realize that one push would mean for sure you were over,” Graham said, according to the transcript from the recorded portion of the interview. “I felt like I shouldn’t have gotten married at that time, but not, there were not any issues of being with Cody, no. I feel like he’s the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with.”
A key determination in the case will be whether Graham acted instinctively or in the “heat of passion” as required to prove a manslaughter charge. Additionally, Graham stated that Johnson grabbed her arm during the cliff-side argument, and defense attorneys will allege that she freed herself from her grasp and pushed Johnson in one motion as opposed to two separate actions.
Trial began December 9 in Missoula Federal Court.
Graham plead guilty December 12 to second-degree murder after four days of trial, but before the case was submitted to the jury. Federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charges of first-degree murder and lying in a federal investigation.
Graham was sentenced Thursday, March 27, to 30 years in prison for killing her husband of eight days, Cody Johnson, by pushing him off a cliff in Glacier National Park after they argued over her second thoughts about the marriage.
At her sentencing U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said he saw no remorse from Graham and he also ordered her to pay $17,000 in restitution.
Timeline of events:
July 7 – Cody L. Johnson falls to his death.
July 8 – Kalispell Police Department (KPD) receives a report of a missing person. The missing male is identified as Cody L. Johnson (Johnson) of Kalispell, Montana. (According to charging documents).
July 9 – Jordan Graham, Johnson’s wife of eight-days, is interviewed by police.
According to the charging documents: “Graham provided the following information about the day of Johnson’s disappearance: After attending dinner with friends, they drove home. During the drive home, Johnson received a cell phone call that caused him to be upset. When she and Johnson arrived at their home at approximately 2145 hours, she realized her phone was going dead and needed to be charged. Graham then drove by herself from her home to another location to collect her phone charger. Graham said while she was retrieving her cell phone charger, sometime after 2145 hours, she received a cellular text message from Johnson’s phone saying he was going for a drive with a friend from out of town. When Graham arrived back at the house, she advised she saw a dark colored car pulling out of the driveway. Graham stated she is sure Johnson was in the dark car. In a subsequent interview, Graham advised she and Johnson routinely delete their text messages, thus she was unable to produce the above-referenced text for viewing.
July 10 — A friend of Graham and Johnson, identified as A.H., reportedly tells investigators that Graham mentioned during church services that Johnson fell off a cliff and died.
July 11 — Police interview K.M., a friend of both Graham and Johnson. Graham reports the location of Johnson’s body.
According to the charging documents: “On July 11, 2013, K.M. was interviewed by law enforcement. K.M. advised she was a friend of Graham and Johnson. According to K.M., Graham recently informed her she was having second thoughts about having been married and needed to talk with somebody regarding her issue. Graham informed K.M. she intended to discuss the matter with Johnson on Sunday, July 7, 2013. On July 7, 2013, at 2056 hours, Graham sent K.M. a text message stating, ‘Oh well, I’m about to talk to him.’ K.M. responded, ‘I’ll pray for you guys.’ Graham responded, ‘But dead serious if u don’t hear from me at all again tonight, something happened.’”
Graham allegedly discovers Johnson’s body. According to the affidavit: “On July 11, 2013, at approximately 2030 hours, U.S. Park Ranger S.P. was dispatched to the Lake McDonald Camp Store in Glacier National Park for a visitor reporting a dead body within the exterior boundaries of Glacier National Park. Graham was identified as the reporting party who informed Ranger S.P. she had located a dead body. The body was located below a popular viewpoint and parking area, called the ‘The Loop’. Ranger S.P. commented to Graham he thought it was unusual that she had found the body. Graham replied, ‘It was a place he wanted to see before he died,’ and ‘He would come up here with friends to drive fast when his friends were visiting from out of state.’”
July 16 – Graham allegedly confesses that she pushed Johnson off a cliff after an argument.
July 18 – Graham allegedly admits to police that she lied about her husband’s death and provided false statements.
September 9 – Graham arrested on charges of second-degree murder.
September 12 – Judge releases Graham from custody and places her on house arrest after determining that she is not a flight risk.
December 9 – Trial begins in Missoula Federal Court.
December 12 — Graham pleads guilty to one count of second-degree murder after four days of trial, but before the case is submitted to the jury.
Cody L. Johnson: The 25-year-old husband of Jordan Linn Graham was reported missing July 8 when he failed to show up for work. His body was recovered in the morning on July 12 near a popular trail called The Loop in Glacier National Park.
Jordan Linn Graham: The 22-year-old newlywed is accused of murdering her husband of eight days by pushing him off a cliff in Glacier National Park. Graham is charged with second degree murder and faces a sentence of up to life in prison.
K.M.: A friend of Cody Johnson and Jordan Graham. According to the charging documents she exchanged a series of texts with Graham shortly before Johnson disappeared. These texts are key evidence in the case against Graham.
A.H.: A friend of Cody Johnson and Jordan Graham who reportedly told investigators that Graham mentioned during church services that Johnson fell off a cliff and died. This was on July 10, one day before Graham allegedly “discovered” her husband’s body.
Steven Liss: The FBI Special Agent assigned to investigate the missing persons and death of Cody L. Johnson.
Andrew Nelson and Michael Donahoe: Graham’s public defenders.
Zeno Baucus: Assistant U.S. Attorney and the prosecuting attorney in this case.
Nothing looks worse on a suspect than a shifting story — well, except an outright confession. In the homicide case of these ill-fated honeymooners, prosecutors and investigators are lucky to have both in suspect Jordan Graham. Graham initially told investigators her new husband was missing, then that he had fallen off a cliff accidentally while on a hike, and finally that she was the reason he fell off the cliff in question. Of course, investigators are also alleging that Graham spiced up her various stories with a little evidence tampering like deleted text messages and newly-created email accounts.
Here’s the thing: the changing stories don’t really matter once the suspect confesses. Unless her lawyers can show that the confession was obtained via illegal police work, the confession is all the United States Attorney will need to secure a second degree murder conviction.
Prosecutors initially charged Graham with only second-degree murder over first-degree murder likely because they could not prove that Graham planned Johnson’s death in advance. However, prosecutors added the first-degree murder charge October 4, which means prosecutors may believe that information from a close friend like K.H. might be sufficient to show that there was premeditation instead of a killing in the heat of the moment.