Montana bride who pushed husband off cliff loses appeal

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2015 7:54 PM

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A Montana bride who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for pushing her new husband to his death off a cliff at Glacier National Park has failed in her bid for a new trial or a shorter sentence before a federal appeals court.

Jordan Graham pleaded guilty in December 2013 to second-degree murder over the death of Cody Johnson, 25, her husband of eight days, and was sentenced by a U.S. judge last year.

In legal motions filed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the former nanny accused prosecutors of distorting facts and acting vindictively, including by suggesting she had blindfolded her spouse before shoving him to his death.

Graham's attorneys also alleged that prosecutors engaged in misconduct by calling her a sociopath during a court hearing, and by wrongly arguing that she deserved a life sentence because she plotted Johnson's killing in advance.

A three-judge panel dismissed her arguments and handed down a decision on Thursday siding with U.S. prosecutors and a lower court, which had already rejected how Graham's lawyers sought to characterize the plea deal she signed.

The U.S. appeal court's ruling also found Graham failed to prove the allegations of vindictiveness by prosecutors, and it upheld the 30-year sentence imposed by the district court.

"Graham lied repeatedly to law enforcement and, even after confessing she pushed Johnson off the ledge, told friends she had been exonerated by multiple polygraph tests," the panel of judges wrote in their decision.

Graham was sentenced last year by a federal judge who refused a request by her to withdraw her guilty plea. That admission of second-degree murder was secured under a deal with prosecutors that saw them dismiss a first-degree murder charge.

Her lawyers had acknowledged she behaved in a "somewhat shameful manner" by lying to officials after the incident. But they said that was because she feared authorities might not buy her account that she accidentally shoved her newlywed off the cliff during a marital dispute while climbing a steep trail.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)