Widow's behavior to be scrutinized in trial starting Monday

By Howard Breuer
Updated December 09, 2013 07:30 AM
Credit: Instagram

As her newlywed husband Cody Johnson lay face down at the bottom of a cliff on the night of July 7, Jordan Graham fired off a flurry of text messages to her friends, discussing her dance moves and planting fake stories to explain Johnson’s disappearance, federal prosecutors say in pretrial briefs.

Although there were no eyewitnesses to Johnson’s tragic fall at Glacier National Park, prosecutors say those text messages, along with testimony from friends and fellow churchgoers about Graham’s behavior before and after the tragedy, will help prove first-degree murder to the federal jury to be impaneled Monday morning in Missoula, Mont.

Graham, 22, “engaged in a nine-day campaign to hide her crime from friends, family and law enforcement,” wrote the prosecutors, adding that Graham, “lied to Glacier National Park law enforcement and every other law enforcement agency she encountered in order to hide her crime.”

Graham’s attorneys may write off her failure to report her husband’s death, or to seem like a grieving widow, as by-products of a quirky personality. Her defense attorneys write in their 12-page pretrial brief that Graham was “naive, immature, socially inept, shy, quiet and unable to relate well to adults.”

“Witnesses will talk about taking Jordan with them on out of town trips and how their friends wondered aloud what was wrong with her. She wouldn’t talk,” the defense motion says.

It also says that Graham feared she married too quickly and, on July 7, she “felt compelled to tell Cody about her wedding blues.” The defense says this somehow led both to an argument and to a suggestion by Johnson that they speed over to Glacier to watch the sunset. The defense says Johnson, 25, loved to drive fast and drink beer, although Graham got him to curb his drinking.

Conflicting Accounts

Each side has a different version of what happened next. When Graham admitted weeks later that she pushed Johnson off the cliff, prosecutors say, Graham told them that they argued and, after Johnson pushed her, she got angry and pushed him from behind when she instead could have walked away.

Graham’s attorneys say that when Johnson grabbed her arm as they descended along “a dangerous narrow ledge,” Graham “reacted instinctively and pushed him off. Cody lost his balance and went off the ledge, landing some 200 feet below in a shallow pool of water.”

Three days later, prosecutors say, Graham created an e-mail account with the name Tony and sent an e-mail to her legitimate e-mail address, writing that Johnson “had gone hiking, fallen, was dead and that the search for him should be terminated.” According to the 36-page document, Johnson then showed investigators the e-mail and led family and friends on a search at the national park, where she “found” Johnson’s body.

According to the defense, testimony will also focus on Graham’s behavior at the June 29 wedding.

“Some witnesses are expected to criticize, after the fact, every tear, every look, every action of Jordan on her wedding day. They will claim she cried too much walking down the aisle and appeared not want to be there,” the defense attorneys wrote. However, they note, Graham also flew out to California with her brother to sing on a song that she commissioned for the couple’s first dance.

“Jordan was like any bride,” her attorneys say. “Jordan and Cody were happy.”