Today, a Montana federal court sentenced 22-year-old Jordan Graham to thirty years in prison for, well, there's really no delicate way of putting this: Shoving her husband of approximately eight days, 25-year-old Cody Johnson, off a cliff in Glacier National Park.
That sentence might seem light to you. It is indeed far less than the prosecution asked for, which was, to quote their sentencing brief, "certainly no less than 600 months imprisonment." The relatively brief sentence suggests that the judge was not impressed by what turned out the be the prosecution's complicated theorizing about what, exactly, happened between this couple on the evening of July 7, 2013.
Let's be absolutely clear. Graham has confessed that yes, she put her hands on her husband's back and shoved him face-first off that cliff. There isn't an active question about whether or not she did that.
But there is is an active question about why.
Yes, according to testimony given in court and some text messages Graham had been sending a friend, she had been having second thoughts about the marriage. She did text a friend that evening that, "but dead serious if you don't hear from me at all against [sic] tonight, something happened."
She also, in the aftermath, lied about whether she'd been to the park at all even though she "found" the body herself, and even fabricated an email from a fake friend "Tony," to supplement her cover story that he'd taken off with others:
"Hello Jordan, My name is Tony. There is no bother in looking for Cody anymore. He is gone. I saw your post on twitter and thought I would email you..."
While she eventually confessed to a story—something along the lines of there was a fight and I pushed him in the heat of passion—the details of that were moving targets, too.
That said, there still seemed to me a wide and mysterious gap between Graham's obvious and ineffective attempts to cover up what she did wrong and the attempt the prosecution was making to present her as a calculating mastermind.
They had to, of course, to get her convincted of first-degree felony murder, which is what she was originally charged with, along with second degree murder and a count of making false statements. (They were federal charges because the crime occurred in a national park.)
Yet Graham had no documented history of violence. Not to mention that not-wanting-to-be-married-anymore somehow didn't quite fly as a motive of anyone other than a one-hundred-percent pure psychopath.
Evidently the judge was not impressed by the prosecution's zeal in this regard. At one point, shortly before the scheduled trial, the U.S. Attorney suddenly announced to the judge that they needed more time to prepare for trial. They said that because they'd found a cloth near Johnson's body, and Graham had said something about blindfolds in her interview, they had a new theory:
A Kalispell bride accused of pushing her husband to his death in Glacier National Park in July may have blindfolded him first, prosecutors contended in U.S. District Court on Friday.
"Oh, come on," U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said in disbelief during the court hearing, at which prosecutors asked to delay the trial until February.
Molloy said he's inclined to decline that request and called the hypothesis that 22-year-old Jordan Linn Graham blindfolded 25-year-old Cody Johnson before his death "rank speculation."
After a short trial, but before the jury could be instructed on a verdict, Graham's lawyers agreed to a plea deal, in which she pled guilty to second-degree murder, and they dropped the first-degree and false statements charges.
But then the prosecution, ever aggressive, brought up evidence they had of Graham's premeditation in their sentencing recommendation to the judge. That's how they got to that fifty-year recommendation. That the verdict was far shorter than the prosecution asked for suggests the judge didn't buy the prosecution's theory that Graham did what she did with premeditated intent.
But then, given that she's likely to spend a minimum of 25 years in a federal penitentiary, per my favorite sentencing expert, she did not really get off easy, either.
[Photo via AP.]
To contact the author of this post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.