By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A Montana bride who admitted pushing her new husband off a cliff at Glacier National Park is appealing her murder conviction on grounds prosecutors distorted facts, acted vindictively toward her and engaged in misconduct, such as publicly labeling her a sociopath.
Jordan Graham, 23, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder in the July 7 death of Cody Johnson, 25, her husband of eight days.
Graham was sentenced in March to 30 years by a U.S. judge after he rejected her request to rescind the guilty plea that she entered as part of a deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for them dismissing a charge of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors said Graham deliberately killed Johnson by shoving him off a cliff during a marital dispute while hiking a trail at Glacier, in Montana. Graham said the death was an accident.
Graham’s lawyer, Michael Donahoe, said in documents filed this week with a U.S. appeals court that prosecutors were “willing to distort and shape” facts to suit their purposes and showed vindictiveness by charging his client with first-degree murder and alleging premeditation in actions that sprang from “the heat of passion.”
Donahoe also said prosecutors engaged in misconduct by branding Graham a sociopath during a court hearing and used the media to promote theories of guilt they could not prove, he said. Those included a theory introduced late in the case by prosecutors suggesting Graham had tricked her husband into being blindfolded before she shoved him to his death, the defense lawyer said.
“The government’s effort from beginning to end was nothing but a kaleidoscope set of theories in search of evidence,” he wrote.
He asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to nullify Graham’s guilty plea and bar federal prosecutors from retrying her for murder.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Graham given what they claimed was her lack of remorse and “mental preparations” they said she made before killing Johnson.
Graham’s lawyers had recommended a 10-year prison term, contending she had accepted responsibility for the death and regularly attended church.
In sentencing Graham, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy found she “didn’t have the human capacity to feel the wrongfulness of what she’d done.”
“I kept waiting for her to say she was sorry for killing Cody. I didn’t hear that,” Molloy said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Beech)