December 10, 2013

Brother testifies at trial of woman accused of pushing husband off cliff

The 16-year-old was with Jordan Graham when she led authorities to her husband’s body in Glacier National Park on July 11.

By Matt Volz
The Associated Press

MISSOULA, Mont. — The teenage brother of a Montana woman on trial in the death of her new husband broke down on the witness stand when asked to describe his feelings toward her.

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Jordan Graham leaves the Federal Courthouse in Missoula, Mont., Monday after the first day of her murder trial. Graham, 22, is accused of murdering Cody Johnson, her husband of eight days, by pushing him off a cliff in Glacier National Park on July 7.

The Associated Press

Michael Rutledge of Kalispell testified in tears on Tuesday that he was angry with defendant Jordan Graham because she had lied about the disappearance of her husband Cody Johnson and kept adding more lies to cover it up.

The 16-year-old Rutledge was with Graham when she led authorities to Johnson’s body in Glacier National Park on July 11. Rutledge says she told him to tell others that park rangers had found the body.

Graham initially said Johnson disappeared July 7 after leaving with friends. She later told federal investigators she and Johnson argued and he accidentally fell from a cliff when she tried to remove his hand from her arm.

Graham cried quietly during her brother’s testimony.

The murder trial of a Montana woman accused of pushing her new husband to his death began with the jury seeing a smiling Cody Johnson, looking dapper in a blue shirt and striped tie.

That photograph was replaced minutes later with one of Johnson’s body lying face-down in a pool of water at the bottom of a cliff in Glacier National Park.

There were no witnesses to what happened the night of July 7, when Johnson and Jordan Graham argued over their 8-day-old marriage at a popular spot in the park, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean told jurors Monday.

“There were only two people on this cliff when the defendant pushed Cody Johnson off,” McLean said.

But by using the testimony of friends and relatives, and the text messages sent by Graham before and after Johnson’s death, prosecutors say they will prove during the trial that Graham, 22, intentionally pushed Johnson from the ledge then lied to family, friends and the police about his death.

Graham has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making a false statement to authorities.

Andy Nelson, Graham’s federal public defender, said Johnson’s death was a tragic accident. She had finally worked up the nerve to talk to Johnson about her grave doubts about their marriage, when he grabbed her during a heated argument and she pushed him to remove his hand.

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

Nelson described Graham as a naive, immature and shy woman who deals better with the children she watched over as a nanny than with most adults. She was awkward around Johnson’s friends, and she sensed they didn’t like her, so she avoided them, the lawyer said.

They were married June 29, about two years after they started dating. Johnson’s friend, Jennifer Toren, said he was crazy about Graham.

“He was willing to do anything for her,” Toren said.

But almost immediately, Graham started having “the wedding blues,” McLean said.

Prosecutors presented jurors with dozens of text messages between Graham and her friend from church, Kimberly Martinez, that documented how Graham’s nervous excitement at the prospect of the wedding turned into despair over the week that followed.

Graham wrote in one text the day after the wedding that she was “completely second guessing everything right now.” The day after that, she wrote that she couldn’t pull herself together. A third message said she wished somebody would have asked her if the marriage was what she wanted, and that all she wanted was to be herself again.

“Something was wrong,” Martinez told the jury. “I couldn’t tell if she was unhappy or something happened.”

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