Attorneys for 22-year-old Jordan Graham on Tuesday asked a federal
judge to rescind her guilty plea from December, alleging prosecutors
are overreaching by seeking a life sentence and reneging on an
agreement that they expected to involve less prison time.
Federal prosecutors wrote in documents submitted on Wednesday that
Graham's request to withdraw her plea was without merit and should
In exchange for Graham pleading guilty to second-degree murder in
the July 7 death of her husband of eight days, 25-year-old Cody
Johnson, prosecutors dropped a first-degree murder charge, which
alleges premeditation and carries a mandatory life sentence.
The plea deal that sparked the latest round of legal wrangling in
the high-profile case was struck just before closing arguments in
Graham's murder trial before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in
The sentence sought by prosecutors exceeded the prison term advised
by a pre-sentencing investigative panel, which recommended 24 to 30
years. Defense sought a 10-year sentence.
Prosecutors have argued a life sentence was warranted given the
seriousness of the crime, Graham's lack of remorse and the "mental
preparations" she made in advance of deliberately killing Johnson
during a marital dispute while hiking a steep trail at Glacier.
After striking the plea deal, Graham admitted her guilt to Molloy,
saying her husband grabbed her hand during the altercation and that
she "just pushed his hand off and just pushed away."
Johnson told acquaintances the morning of his death that Graham had
planned a "surprise" for him that evening, Assistant U.S. Attorney
for Montana Zeno Baucus wrote in legal documents.
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Prosecutors described Graham, of Kalispell, as "extremely dangerous,
predatory and an unrepentant murderer" who had "left a mother
childless, upended a community and shown no respect for the law
during this entire process."
Michael Donahoe, Graham's federal defender, argued his client had no
criminal record before the "tragic event," was unlikely to commit
another crime and regretted she initially lied to investigators to
cover up the crime.
"She is worthy of punishment and the shame that will no doubt
accompany her for the remainder of her life," Donahoe wrote in court
records. "Defendant has confided ... that a day does not go by that
she doesn't think of her husband and what might have been."
The judge said in legal documents filed this week that government
sentencing statistics show the length of imprisonment in Montana on
a murder charge averaged about 17.5 years.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho;
editing by Eric M.
Johnson and Lisa Shumaker)
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