Defense says crucial interrogation not recorded in newlywed murder case
MISSOULA, Mont. - Defense attorneys say investigators twisted the words of a Kalispell newlywed accused of murdering her husband in Glacier National Park.
Court documents filed late last week reveal new details including that defense attorneys are asking the judge to drop the indictment for Jordan Linn Graham.
Last month Graham pleaded not guilty to three charges after a federal grand jury indicted her for first-degree (premeditated) murder, second-degree murder and a third charge for lying to authorities. She is accused of pushing her husband Cody Lee Johnson off a cliff in Glacier National Park just eight days after their wedding.
In the most recent court documents, defense attorneys claim that investigators didn't record a large portion of Graham's interrogation.
It took almost 60 pages for federal public defenders Andrew Nelson and Michael Donahoe to explain to the judge why they're asking to dismiss the indictment.
Court documents say Graham was called to the Kalispell Police Department about a week after she told police she'd found Johnson's body. Once there Graham met FBI Agent Stacey Smiedala, who's an expert polygrapher and interrogator. Graham's attorneys said Smiedala questioned her for almost an hour and half.
In a statement prepared by her attorneys Graham said she decided to fess up during the questioning.
"Initially I told Agent Smiedala the same story about Cody's disappearance that I told the other police officers. Soon however I realized I needed to tell the truth, and so I described in detail the events of the night of July 7, 2013…"
In several other interviews Graham told police Johnson had gone with friends to Glacier and that she went looking and found his body a few days later.
But in the interview with Smiedala, for the first time she admitted she was there the night Johnson fell to his death, though Donahoe said that interrogation, those revealing answers were never recorded.
"The first hour and twenty-five minutes of Jordan's interrogation went unrecorded despite the fact that both audio and video equipment was available for that purpose," he writes in the document.
Donahoe went on to write that the defense team and the court will never know how the agent got her to admit her involvement, what she said, and how she said it.
The court documents also say Graham even reenacted what she says was an accidental push; a moment of self-defense after she claims Johnson grabbed her. But again, writes Donahoe, that reenactment between Graham and Smiedala wasn't recorded.
And after that hour and 25 minutes, the court documents say Smiedala asked Graham to repeat some of what she'd said earlier but this time it was recorded.
He asked her how Johnson fell from the ledge.
"And then we were arguing some more and he went to grab my arm and my jacket and I said "no" I said I am not going to let this happen to me, I am going to defend myself. So I kinda said "let go" and I pushed and he went over."
Smiedala also asked Graham why she lied to law enforcement about Johnson's disappearance.
"I was afraid that they weren't going to give me a chance to explain things and they were just gonna kind of put me in handcuffs and take me away right there…"
But the defense team's bottom line: "Jordan's first unabridged version of the events cannot be recreated," Donahoe wrote.
In addition to the problems the defense has with the unrecorded interrogation attorneys are also concerned with the possibly of new evidence from prosecutors that was likely not presented to the grand jury.
The defense claims assistant U.S. attorneys are speculating Graham may have blindfolded Johnson that night at Glacier National Park. Investigators found a piece of cloth close to where Johnson's body was found; that cloth is currently being tested for DNA.
A hearing is scheduled for the case this Friday. A trial is still set for December 9, though prosecutors are asking that is be postponed until February.