A Montana woman accused of shoving her husband of just eight days to his death off a cliff in a national park pleaded not guilty Friday to murder charges.
The woman, Jordan Linn Graham, 22, of Kalispell, was arraigned in U.S. Magistrate's Court in Missoula a day after a federal grand jury indicted her on charges of first- and second-degree murder and making false statements in the July 7 death of Cody L. Johnson, 25, whom she'd married just the week before.
Graham and her attorney had no comment as they entered the courthouse.
The case made national headlines and landed Graham — who has insisted that her husband's death was an accident — on the cover of People magazine last month. She has been in the custody of her parents since she was released from jail after a judge ruled in September that she wasn't a flight risk.
Johnson was reported missing on July 8 when he didn't show up for work. According to an FBI affidavit, Graham told investigators that she had gotten a text message from Johnson late the previous night saying he was going driving with some friends.
Her husband wasn't seen again until Graham herself reported finding his body late on July 11 below a viewing area known as the Loop in Glacier National Park on the U.S.-Canada border, according to the FBI affidavit.
That part of the park is extremely steep and rocky — so much so that it took a helicopter and rescue team from Canada to recover the body. Graham told a park ranger that she'd decided to look there because "it was a place he wanted to see before he died," according to the affidavit.
Graham initially told investigators that she didn't know what happened to her husband, but that story quickly unraveled, according to the affidavit.
Within five days — on July 16 — Graham admitted that she'd lied about Johnson's having driven off without her, the affidavit says. It says she told investigators that they'd actually had an argument at the park, during which she accidentally knocked Johnson off the cliff when he grabbed her arm.
Meanwhile, other witnesses were telling their stories.
One woman, identified only as K.M. in the criminal charging documents, told investigators that she was a friend of Graham's and that Graham had told her on July 7 —the day Johnson died — that she was having second thoughts about her new marriage.
Another, identified only as A.H., described as a close friend of both newlyweds, told investigators that Graham mentioned during church services that Johnson had fallen off a cliff and died.
And that was on July 10 — a day before Graham purportedly "discovered" Johnson's body.
Further evidence was harvested from bank and cellphone records, according to a prosecution filing at a detention hearing in September. The documents don't detail that evidence.
The grand jury rejected Graham's claim that Johnson died in an accident, concluding that she planned the killing and then lied about it.
That's what Johnson's friends have been saying all along as they lobbied authorities to pursue murder charges.
Johnson was "the best person ever," Lytaunie Blasdel — a lifelong friend of Graham's who says she cut off relations with her about a year ago — told the Daily Inter Lake newspaper of Kalispell last month. "He is the guy that every father wants for his daughter. That pretty much sums him up."
Blasdel and her brother, Levi — who introduced the couple — told the newspaper that they had concerns even before Graham and Johnson got married in June. While Johnson was head-over-heels in love, Graham was aloof and distant from her fiancé and then husband, they said.
"We all had our reservations about their relationship," Levi Blasdel said. "She seemed so remote from the relationship, so withdrawn."
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First published October 4 2013, 12:26 PM