MISSOULA, Montana — A Montana judge denied a woman’s attempt to withdraw her guilty plea Thursday as she faces sentencing on a murder charge for pushing her husband to his death in Glacier National Park.
Jordan Linn Graham, 22, faces up to life in prison on federal charges of second-degree murder in the death of husband Cody Johnson, 25.
She pleaded guilty in December but sought to withdraw that plea this week after prosecutors recommended 50 years to life in prison. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy denied the request as her sentencing hearing began in Missoula.
Jordan admitted pushing Johnson off a cliff at Glacier National Park on July 7 following an argument. Prosecutors say she planned the killing then lied to cover it up.
Defense attorney Michael Donahoe said the issue of intent was settled when Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder based on extreme recklessness. He has argued that her “extremely reckless but unintentional act” warrants 10 years in prison.
But Molloy told Graham in December that her pleading guilty meant she could face a life sentence in federal prison. The change of plea came in the midst of a jury trial.
Prosecutors said three facts indicated Graham was “planning and considering” murder: She was unhappy in her new marriage, she somehow ended up with the only set of keys to the car Johnson drove into the park July 7, and she texted a friend saying that if the friend didn’t hear from her at all again that night, “something happened.”
Johnson’s body was found at the bottom of the cliff three days after he was reported missing by a friend and co-worker. Graham said at her trial that she was having second thoughts about being married so young and they went to the park to talk about it.
They argued heatedly at the edge of a steep cliff. Johnson grabbed her, she became angry, and she “just pushed” without thinking about where they were, Graham said then.
She didn’t tell anybody what had happened, instead making up a story that Johnson had gone for a “joyride” with friends from Washington state.
That story unraveled when the versions she told to friends, relatives and authorities didn’t match.