On deadline here, so not much time to talk — but I’ve been asked questions of the case of U.S. v. Jordan Linn Graham, the 22 year old who pleaded guilty this past week to second degree murder for pushing her husband of 8 days, 25-year-old Cody Johnson. (Disclaimer: I have no direct knowledge of the case, but my husband was summonsed as a juror; the 12 jurors and two alternates were chosen before his number was called.)
Why was this case in federal court, not state court? The death occurred in Glacier National Park, giving federal investigators — park rangers and FBI agents — and prosecutors jurisdiction. The Park is located in Flathead County, Montana, so the Flathead County coroner was called. Park and local officials often work closely on searches, rescues, and investigations, as they did here. And Johnson, Graham, and all the witnesses live outside the Park, in Flathead County, leading to more inter-governmental cooperation.
Why would she plead guilty before closing arguments? News accounts say the prosecutors offered to accept a guilty plea to second degree murder, in exchange for dropping the charges of first degree murder and making a false statement in an investigation. My speculation: Graham and her lawyers must have believed that there was a very good chance that she would be convicted of first degree murder and making a false statement, and little chance that she would acquitted of second degree. (First degree involves premeditation, while second degree involves “knowingly and unlawfully kill[ing] someone with forethought and malice or with extreme recklessness and disregard for human life.”) At that stage of the trial, the judge and lawyers had already “settled” or chosen what final instructions would be given to the jury. So, accepting the plea offer allowed her to get the better outcome, carrying a shorter sentence, 19 to 25 years with no early release.
What’s next? Sentencing is scheduled for March 27. Meanwhile, a pre-sentence investigation will occur and a pre-sentence report prepared, as I described in Books, Crooks & Counselors. Her criminal history will be checked — news reports say it’s clean — and a personal or “social” history conducted, giving an intimate look into Graham and her life. A psychological evaluation may be ordered. Witnesses and family members — hers and Johnson’s — may be interviewed; they may also write to the judge. At the hearing, witnesses may testify. Graham herself is likely to testify — she could not be compelled to testify at the trial, but that right does not apply to sentencing. Witnesses will be called. Both prosecution and defense will make recommendations. Federal sentencing guidelines are more restrictive than the guidelines than in Montana state courts, giving the judges fewer options — which most judges dislike, Judge Don Molloy included.
Why no cameras? The federal courts do not allow cameras in court. Some state courts allow them; others don’t. Love this account in The Missoulian about the sketch artists. http://missoulian.com/news/local/missoula-artists-find-work-at-camera-free-u-s-district/article_ac7f3b14-6396-11e3-8191-001a4bcf887a.html
And yes, Judge Molloy does look like a walrus — but a very nice, very smart one who runs a no-nonsense court and is very attentive to his jurors. As my husband says, “he is so comfortable, he made us feel very comfortable.”
Want more info? This report from The Missoulian will get you to the latest article, with links to more articles. (Sorry about the lengthy link; Word Press is fighting me today.) http://missoulian.com/news/local/more-testimony-report-will-factor-into-graham-murder-sentence/article_e4c5c060-645e-11e3-b3bc-001a4bcf887a.html
More questions? Fire away!
Thanks, Leslie, for anticipating and answering my question of why the trial was in federal court, rather than district. Aren’t federal prisons generally tougher places to serve a sentence than state prisons? I expect she will ask herself many times in coming years why she didn’t just walk away from the marriage.
You bet! I’ll confess that I know little about the federal prison system. There are highly secure facilities for the likes of Ted Kaczynski, and minimum security facilities for white collar criminals. There is no federal prison in MT — she is temporarily housed in the Missoula County jail, which contracts with the federal marshals. I suspect she will end up in a lower-risk facility — technically, she’s a violent offender, of course, but not in the same category as others, and if she is as shy and naïve as the defense portrayed her, she may need some protection herself.