By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - Federal prosecutors believe a Montana woman accused of shoving her new husband off a cliff at Glacier National Park during an argument may have blindfolded him before pushing him to his death, court documents show.
The theory stems from "a piece of cloth" authorities retrieved near a ravine where the body of Cody Johnson, 25, was found, according to legal records filed late last week by defense lawyers that reference the theory.
Jordan Graham, 22, was indicted last month on first- and second-degree murder charges tied to the July 7 death of Johnson, her husband of eight days.
Federal prosecutors have said that the Kalispell, Montana newlyweds argued that evening while hiking a steep trail at Glacier and that Graham shoved Johnson off a rock ledge "due to anger" and then tried to cover up the crime by lying to investigators.
Graham's attorneys argue that the death was accidental, that Johnson grabbed his wife's arm during a marital dispute and that Graham pulled away even as she pushed him back.
Michael Donahoe, senior litigator with Federal Defenders of Montana, said that U.S. attorneys have not disclosed any evidence of premeditation except for mentioning during a recent telephone conference call that "the government now believes Jordan placed a blindfold on Cody before pushing him off the ledge," the court filings showed.
A cloth found near where Johnson's body was recovered was sent for DNA analysis but the defense has not been given a report of the government's findings, Donahoe said in the court documents, filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana.
Federal prosecutors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Donahoe added that prosecutors' "eleventh hour premeditation theory that Cody was blindfolded" raised serious legal concerns since it appeared to contradict their argument that the newlyweds were arguing intensely while hiking.
"It hardly seems plausible that the argument would cease abruptly so Jordan could apply a blindfold," Donahoe said.
Graham's trial is slated to begin next month in Missoula. Her attorneys have asked the court to bar the government from introducing such evidence at trial as nude images of the newlyweds retrieved from their cell phones.
Donahoe has said that U.S. authorities distorted his client's statements about the incident and recorded only the parts of her interrogation that bolstered the government's case.
He wants a judge to dismiss the indictment entirely or to strike down the first-degree murder charge, which alleges premeditation and carries a mandatory life sentence.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Richard Chang)