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Montana bride accused of shoving husband off cliff pleads not guilty

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A Montana woman accused of killing her husband of eight days by pushing him off a cliff in a national park pleaded not guilty on Friday to first-degree murder and other charges in a federal grand jury indictment handed down one day earlier.

Jordan Graham, 22, was charged in September with second-degree murder in the July 7 death of her husband, 25-year-old Cody Johnson of Kalispell, Montana.

But a federal grand jury on Thursday found sufficient evidence to also charge her with first-degree murder, a charge that alleges premeditation and carries a life prison sentence.

Graham entered not guilty pleas to both charges during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Missoula and was ordered back to court on October 15 for further proceedings in the case.

In a sworn statement filed with the court, FBI Special Agent Steven Liss said that Graham argued with her husband and expressed doubts about their marriage before pushing him off a cliff in Glacier National Park.

Graham had confided to a friend that she was having second thoughts about marrying Johnson, with whom she argued while hiking a steep trail at the national park, according to Liss' statement.

"Graham stated she could have just walked away, but due to anger, she pushed Johnson with both hands in the back, and as a result he fell face first off the cliff," Liss said.

After family and friends reported Johnson missing, Graham told authorities her husband had texted her to say he was going for a drive with friends and that she believed he was in a dark-colored car that pulled out of the couple's driveway that night, according to legal documents.

Graham's federal public defender, Michael Donahoe, has said that his client was acting in self-defense. At a court hearing last month he said Liss and other federal agents mischaracterized her statements during audio-taped interviews.

Donahoe said the incident on the cliff involving Johnson's grabbing and Graham's pushing were "all one motion" and that his client's actions constituted "a self-defense kind of thing," according to legal documents.

A U.S. magistrate judge last month released Graham from jail after determining she was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.

She was equipped with an electronic monitoring device and placed in her parents' custody in their Kalispell home, where she is to remain pending trial. She is restricted to the residence except for such activities as religious services, mental health treatment or court hearings.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)

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