'Instinct' led to deadly push off cliff, newlywed testifies


MISSOULA, Mont. — A Montana woman charged with shoving her new husband off a cliff to his death testified Friday that she instinctively pushed him away when he grabbed her arm during an argument in Glacier National Park.

Jordan Graham also said that an FBI agent who interviewed her about Cody Johnson’s death made her uncomfortable by placing his hand on her knee.

Graham, 22, testified in U.S. District Court in Missoula in a hearing on her request to drop the murder charges filed against her in the July 7 death of the 25-year-old Johnson.

Graham and Johnson had been married for eight days when they argued over her doubts about the marriage, prosecutors said. The couple took the argument to Glacier National Park, where Johnson at one point grabbed Graham, and Graham removed his arm and pushed him in the back and off a steep cliff, according to the criminal complaint.

Graham has pleaded not guilty, and said she was only attempting to remove Johnson’s arm — not push him.

She repeated the claim on the stand Friday that she was acting instinctively. She also said she felt uncomfortable in a July 16 interview with FBI Agent Stacey Smiedala during which she dropped her previous claims that Johnson had driven off with friends.

Graham attorney Michael Donahoe alleges in court filings that Smiedala interrogated Graham alone and unrecorded for nearly 1 ½ hours so that he could “shape” her statement to get Graham to admit she acted not instinctively, but in the “heat of passion,” required to file manslaughter charges.

During that time, Smiedala made her uncomfortable by sitting very close and touching her knee for extended periods of time, Graham testified.

A shorter statement of Graham’s version of events was then recorded and the agent “told me that I was in the clear, that I wouldn’t be seeing him again, and that I was free to go,” she said.

Her recorded statements were later distorted in the criminal complaint, Donahoe alleged.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus in court filings said Graham participated voluntarily, and that FBI agents conducted the interview and filed the complaint properly.

A trial is set for Dec. 9. Prosecutors have requested a delay in the trial date while they await the results of DNA tests on a piece of cloth found near Johnson’s body.

 

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