The Glacier Park murder suspect accused of pushing her husband off a cliff is set to appear in federal court today to face second degree murder charges.
The newlywed couple allegedly argued while hiking at Glacier National Park in July -- an altercation that ended with Cody Johnson, 25, falling "face first" off a cliff to his death. His wife Jordan Linn Graham, 22, was taken into custody, reports CNN.
Although Graham's story has changed several times since her arrest, her options in criminal court are fairly clear.
Second Degree Murder Charge
Graham had initially told authorities that she'd found her husband's body by chance -- a story which she later retracted to explain that she'd actually pushed him in anger during a fight, reports CNN.
If Graham's story is to be believed, she may be found guilty of second degree murder, if a jury finds that she:
- Caused Johnson's death,
- Intended to cause Johnson's death,
- Did not cause the death in a heat of passion, and
- Was not acting in self-defense.
Because the alleged murder was committed at a national park, which is federal property, the case is under the jurisdiction of the federal courts, and state law may not apply.
The difference between state and federal capital punishment is moot in Graham's case, however, as neither Montana nor federal law allows for the death penalty for a second degree murder conviction.
Possible Motive for Murder
While Graham is currently charged with second degree murder, if facts come to light that she actually planned the murder of her husband, then first degree murder charges could be added as late as during the trial.
The current criminal complaint states that Graham "told a friend she was having second thoughts about marrying Johnson," and she planned to talk to him on the day of his alleged murder, CNN reports.
Graham claims that Johnson's death was the result of a spur-of-the-moment angry push, but her credibility will be called into question for lying to an officer about his fall. Lying to law enforcement is also a criminal offense.
The accused widow's Wednesday court hearing will determine whether Graham should be held on bail or released on her own recognizance. This is the first murder case in the history of Glacier National Park.
- Glacier Park murder: Friends warned Kalispell man not to marry (The Missoulian)
- Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Yosemite Deaths: How Safe Are National Parks? (FindLaw's Injured)
- State Second Degree Murder Laws (FindLaw)