First Day of Jordan Graham Murder Trial Highlights Post-Wedding Depression, Struggles With Sexual Intimacy
The first day of the Jordan Graham trial is over, and the jury selection, opening statements, and public testimony of witnesses, reveal a lot of what is in store for the woman who is charged with pushing her newlywed husband, Cody Johnson, off of a cliff in Glacier National Park.
Of the 35 individuals to go through the final steps of jury selection, the court settled on six women and eight men. The jury selection process revealed some important details about how the court expects the preceding to play out.
For example, one of the jurors was selected even though she testified that she had a plane flight on Thursday; just one of many hints (along with a statement that Judge Donald Malloy has a trial on Monday, December 16 that he “intends to make”) that the trial is expected to last less than a week.
The prosecution’s opening statement by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean gave the jurors a “framework” by which to judge the case. During these statements, McLean expressed the prosecution’s goal of showing that “the defendant intentionally killed her husband of eight days by pushing him off a cliff in Glacier National Park.”
McLean delineated four elements needed to prove first degree murder:
- 1. That Cody Johnson was “unlawfully killed.”
- 2. That Jordan Graham acted with “malice of forethought.”
- 3. That the act was “premeditated.”
- 4. And, for reasons of “jurisdiction,” that the act “occurred in Glacier National Park.”
Graham is also charged with second degree murder. While Graham cannot be accused of both first and second degree murder, McLean explained that a charge of second degree murder could be reached with all of the attributes of first degree murder minus the element of premeditation.
McLean went on to briefly chart the budding relationship of Johnson and Graham, describing Graham as a bride with “cold feet,” who was “pretending to be happy.” McLean walked the jury from the couple’s first meeting on Halloween 2011, through their engagement at Graham’s pastor’s house, to the marriage in June of 2013.
McLean then began using photographs to present the scene of Johnson’s death in detail, pointing out the geographical circumstances of the cliff along the “loop trail above McDonald Lake,” where Johnson and Graham where standing before the fateful fall.
The courtroom was taken through a photographed tour of the death scene, which progressed from the Going to the Sun Road, over a man-made stone barrier that separates the road from steep cliffs, and down a treacherous embankment, to a notable tree stump where Johnson and Graham reportedly stood and argued before Johnson was allegedly pushed to his death. McLean described the area on which the couple stood at the time of the argument as “the size of a phone booth.”
Among the pictures shown was a hand-drawn sketch by Graham of the area where the tragedy occurred. Stick figures and arrows with names show Graham standing behind Johnson as the argument reached its climax.
The photograph tour ended with a picture of the limp body of Johnson floating face down with his head submerged in a pool of stunningly clear glacial water. Johnson’s white sneakers, and the dark clothes he had warn to church that fateful Sunday evening, could be clearly seen as he lay suspended in a pool beneath a glittering waterfall.
McLean then detailed the aftermath of Johnson’s death, focusing on Graham’s drive away from the scene. He described how she texted her maid of honor saying, “I’m freaking out. I don’t know what to do,” and then focused on a text to another friend about dance moves for an upcoming church luau party.
The prosecution implied that Graham’s texts were the result of a callous murderer with more important things to think about.
McLean then detailed the aftermath of Johnson’s death, including the lies that Graham told about Johnson’s disappearance, namely that “he had gone joy riding with friends from Seattle.”
The lies (both the prosecution and defense admit that there were lies) came to a tearful conclusion and a confession by Graham on July 16, when she was interrogated by FBI agent Stacy Smiedala, who reportedly confronted Graham saying, “Look, I know you were in Glacier National Park,” as he showed her a photograph of Johnson’s car pulling into the park. McLean then showed the jury a photograph of the car with the signature “Jordan Johnson” (Graham) reportedly written by Graham the day of her confession to Smiedala. The photograph was also dated by Graham with the numerals 7/16/13.
McLean ended his opening statements by quoting Graham’s testimony to Smiedala that she “could have walked away” and that she claimed to “have been more emotional than she had ever been” just moments before she pushed Johnson with two hands on the back to his death.
After McLean’s opening statements, one of Graham’s defence attorneys, Andrew Nelson, provided the opening remarks for the defense.
Nelson described Graham as a “young, naive, insecure, withdrawn, and maybe a little boring” individual who was devoted to her church, wonderful with children, but struggled in communications with adults.
Nelson described Graham “like a frightened rabbit… like a mouse in a maze” as she struggled to deal with the aftermath of Johnson’s death. The defense argues that the event was an accident that occurred in the heat of the moment. “Boom, boom, boom, grab, push, fall,” said Nelson, describing the climatic scene on the cliff as “a demarcation” for Graham, between “reality and fantasy.”
Nelson then described Graham’s discussion of “who has the sweetest dance moves” with a church friend while driving home from Glacier, as proof that Graham “disconnected” in order to cope with what happened after Cody’s death.
Nelson painted Graham’s lies as “sophomoric attempts to deflect attention,” because she was “afraid that no one would let here explain… that she’d be arrested right then and there.”
Nelson then described a tearful confession by Graham in which she cried to agent Smiedala. This confession, Nelson explained, would regrettably not be heard by the jury, because all that was recorded was a summary confession.
In closing, Nelson quoted Graham’s confession saying, “I don’t know why he grabbed my arm, but his instincts are to pull and grab.”
He then described Graham’s response as she said, “Let go,” pulled her arm away, and pushed Johnson.
Nelson focused the jury on the intensity of the moment by quoting Graham as saying, “I was feeling every emotion that I could think of at once.”
Following the opening statements, two witnesses were called. First up was Jennifer Toren, who was a close friend of Johnson.
Toren cried early in her testimony, while describing Johnson as “loving and generous, a give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of guy.” Graham’s head fell during this description and sniffling was audible even though her back was turned to the those sitting in the courtroom gallery.
Toren described Johnson as an amazing friend: kind, gregarious, and deeply in love with Graham. She described Graham as “very quiet, very reserved” and unresponsive to multiple attempts at friendship. Graham, said Toren, would not meet for coffee and was often too sick or tired to meet up with Johnson’s other friends.
Toren described the Johnson wedding as a “low-budget wedding, but still nice,” saying that Graham “cried briefly while walking down the aisle,” but that she spent most of the ceremony “looking at the floor.”
The prosecuting attorney then had Toren read a series of text messages detailing one of the lies from Graham starting with one at 4:13 p.m. the day after Johnson’s death.
- Graham: Hey Jen! Have you or Kris heard from Cody at all last night or today?
- Toren: No, I was wondering the same thing. I heard he didn’t go to work today. Was he at home this morning?
- Graham: No, some car buddies from Seattle came to the house yesterday.
Toren then read a response from Graham after she had left the Kalispell police station.
- Someone said some buls@#t stuff, cause the officer pretty much said I was lying about everything. Going by other information he had, but nobody really knows anything, so not sure what he’s thinking.
Toren described Johnson as “our third wheel,” a friend that was always available and helpful. She described Graham as walking down the aisle not with tears of joy, but “tears of scared.”
The second witness, Kimberly Martinez, was not only the matron of honor at Johnson and Graham’s wedding, but also a close church friend and “older sister” to Graham during the depression that apparently set in after their wedding.
The jury was presented with over an hour of textual exchange by Martinez and Graham, describing, mostly, the depressive state that Graham entered just weeks before the wedding.
Below are excerpts from some of the texts before Johnson’s death in which Graham is suffering from depression and struggling to tell Johnson that she is unhappy with a marriage that she perceives to have begun to soon:
- I totally just had a meltdown. I’m completely second-guessing everything right now.
- I cannot freaking pull myself together.
- …I’m already a terrible person as it is…
- I wish someone would have straight up asked me if it was what I wanted. All the time, all I feel like doing is crying.
Martinez’ testimony revealed an extremely depressed Graham that would come over to “cry on our couch” and would “go home every single night and just cry.” The texts show Graham’s fear at explaining her situation to Johnson or to others saying, “I feel like I’d be judged.”
The testimony also revealed struggles with sexual intimacy through texts by Graham:
- I just know he’s going to want to do stuff and I’m not really wanting to.
- I don’t want to for all the wrong reasons though. I should be into everything like he is.
- I just feel like it’s my job to make sure he’s happy. Even if it means I go everyday miserable and all I do is cry.
- We yelled at each other for 30 min. All I want is a hug and someone to tell me they love me, and it all to just go away.
- I’m to the point, almost, of not wanting to live.
- He held me down the other night and was in my face. I was ready for a hit and was going to go right back at him.
- My period started tonight! I hope it works! Because if I’m forced to do something, I’m going to freak out!
- I’m a loser who can’t open my mouth and say how I feel.
The texts show that the depression and tension escalate until Graham prepares to confront Johnson with the fact that she is unhappy.
A text sent at 9:05 the day of Johnson’s death reads: “but dead serious, if u don’t hear from me at all again tonight something happened.”
At 11:53 p.m., after the incident, Graham texted:
“I’m about to go for a walk or something. Jump off a fricking bridge. IDK. I’ve lost it.”
The court adjourned during the middle of Martinez’ testimony, and will return to continue with her testimony Tuesday, December 10. So far, the defense has not been able to cross examine Martinez.