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Tears at trial of Montana newlywed accused of pushing husband off cliff

Jury selection starts Monday in the trial of Jordan Linn Graham, seen here leaving court in October. Michael Gallacher / Missoulian

Emotions ran high Tuesday at the trial of a Montana woman charged with pushing her husband off a cliff eight days after their wedding, with her teenage brother breaking down in tears on the stand.

Jordan Linn Graham, 22, also wept as she listened to 16-year-old Michael Rutledge testify that he was angry his sister had lied about the disappearance of her groom, Cody Johnson.

"She could have told us the truth," Rutledge said. "She told one lie, was asked to tell the truth, and she said it again. And she had to keep adding more lies to cover it up.

"And that's maybe why I was mad."

Graham is charged with first-degree and second-degree murder in the death of Johnson, who plunged 200 feet off a cliff in Glacier National Park on July 7, a week after the couple tied the knot. She has pleaded not guilty.

The new bride told friends, family and police that she saw Johnson, 25, drive off with a friend. She allegedly created a dummy email account to send a message to herself, signed Tony, saying he had fallen to his death while hiking.

Cody Johnson jgfuneralhome.com

The truth came out nine days later when Graham admitted to cops that she went with Johnson to the park and they argued. She claims she pushed him in self-defense after he grabbed her arm and that he lost his balance on a narrow ledge and fell.

Federal prosecutors argue she meant to kill him and had confided in text messages to a friend, Kimberly Martinez, that she was unhappy in their marriage.

The day after the wedding, Graham wrote that she was "completely second guessing everything right now." In another message she said she wished someone would have asked her if the marriage was what she wanted.

"Something was wrong," Martinez told the jury about the texts. "I couldn't tell if she was unhappy or something happened."

The case against Graham is largely circumstantial.

"There were only two people on this cliff when the defendant pushed Cody Johnson off," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean acknowledged in opening statements on Monday afternoon.

Andy Nelson, Graham's lawyer, said Johnson's death was an accident.

"Arguing on this small ledge was like arguing in a phone booth," he said in his opening. "Jordan lied because she was afraid no one would ever let her explain what happened on that ledge."

Four days after Johnson vanished, Graham took her brother and other searchers to the park and led them to the body.

"When Jordan claimed she saw Cody, I was in disbelief, so I went down myself," Rutledge said.

She claimed she knew where to look because that's where her husband liked to hang out with his "car buddies," prosecutors have said.

NBC News' Jim Lichtenstein and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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