erin wian montana wife accused killing cliff push_00012204.jpg
Was husband blindfolded before push?
02:03 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Judge denies motion to dismiss murder charges against Jordan Linn Graham

Despite what judge calls "trial by ambush," case will go to trial on December 9

Graham admitted she pushed her husband off a cliff, but claims it was self-defense

FBI agent denies Graham's claim that the touched her during an interview

Missoula, Montana CNN  — 

A federal judge on Friday denied a motion to dismiss a murder case against a Montana newlywed bride accused of murdering her husband by shoving him off a cliff at Glacier National Park.

The ruling followed a surprise appearance on the witness stand by Jordan Linn Graham, who faces first- and second-degree murder charges in the death of her 25-year-old husband, Cody Johnson.

In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy criticized the prosecutors for what he described as “trial by ambush,” but said the case will proceed to trial on December 9.

Graham, 21, wearing a purple sweater and blue jean blouse, took the stand to testify that doubts about her marriage had escalated into a physical altercation during a trail hike.

“We went on a little stump part and we were in the middle of an argument and he thought I was going to run away,” said Graham. “Cody had grabbed me and I thought he was going to push me down,” she said. “My first instinct was to get him off.”

Graham was indicted last month on charges she intentionally pushed her husband to his death in an angry rage. Her federal public defender Michael Donahoe has asserted in court documents that his death was an accident. Donahoe also accused the government of misconduct related to a series of interrogation interviews the FBI conducted.

Graham, who had been a part-time nanny, is accused of murder and making false statements.

During her 15 minutes of testimony, Graham accused FBI agent Stacey Smiedala of making her uncomfortable by placing his hand on her knee during an interrogation. “He held me for five minutes,” she said.

In cross examination, federal prosecutor Kris Mclean showed Graham an affidavit she signed about that unrecorded interview, which lasted an hour and 20 minutes:

“Under oath you said, ‘During the entire time I was in the room by myself with Agent Smiedala, he never took his hands off my knee,’” McClean said, seeking to underscore the time discrepancy between her testimony and her signed affidavit.

“Yes,” she replied. “I guess to my knowledge I did not know it was going to be translated in that manner.”

In his testimony about interrogation methods, agent Smiedala denied physically touching Graham’s leg, saying he only tried to verbally console her after she broke down in tears after confessing.

In a case that has gained national attention, Graham did not initially report the incident. She told local detectives that Johnson had vanished in a dark vehicle the night of July 7 with unknown friends.

On July 11, according to an affidavit, Graham led a group of friends and relatives to a popular spot in the park called “The Loop,” where they discovered Johnson’s body.

Only after a FBI agent Smiedala showed her a surveillance photo of the couple entering the gates to Glacier National Park did Graham change her story and confess to pushing him off the ledge.

“She began to cry and I told her, “I am glad you have been honest,” the agent said. A polygraph was never conducted and Graham was released until a grand jury indicted her last month.

Prior to her interrogation, Graham had signed a polygraph examination consent form and waived her right to remain silent without an attorney.

Defense attorneys claimed failure to record the first hour and 20 minutes of the interrogation violated state law.

Two subsequent interviews were recorded in which Graham allegedly cited the death as an accident and that she acted in self-defense. Judge Molloy said he would rule on the admissibility of her unrecorded statements at a future date.

Prosecutors have theorized that Graham blindfolded her husband before pushing him to his death and then lied to cover up the crime, according to motions filed by the defense.

Donahoe, the public defender, has criticized prosecutors for labeling Graham a sociopath, accused them of distorting statements she made, and contended they recorded only those segments of interviews that bolstered the government’s case.

Donahoe said federal attorneys have not disclosed any evidence of the premeditation alleged in the first-degree murder charge except for mentioning during a recent telephone conference that “the government now believes Jordan placed a blindfold on Cody before pushing him off the ledge,” court documents show.

The theory is tied to a “piece of cloth” found near Johnson’s body that investigators have sent for DNA analysis, according to court documents.

The case is being prosecuted in federal court before U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy because the incident occurred in a national park.