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Montana bride pleads guilty in husband's cliff death

By Lori Grannis

MISSOULA, Mont.,- A Montana bride accused of killing her new husband by pushing him off a cliff in Glacier National Park pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Thursday in an 11th-hour deal reached as closing arguments were set to begin in the case.

Jordan Graham, 22, had been on trial for first- and second- degree murder in the July 7 death of her husband of eight days, 25-year-old Cody Johnson, when the judge announced that a deal had been reached.

Graham entered her plea after telling the judge that she understood the consequences and knew that she could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. She could get less time under federal sentencing guidelines.

"The court finds Jordan L. Graham competent, and I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that she is guilty of ... second-degree murder," U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said following the plea.

Graham, who had been free on bail during her trial, was led away in handcuffs at the conclusion of the hearing. Her parents left the courthouse in tears.

Federal prosecutors contend that Graham deliberately shoved her husband off a rock ledge while the couple was hiking a steep trail at Glacier and then lied to investigators and tried to cover up the crime.

Graham's attorneys have said the death was an accident that happened during a marital dispute in which Johnson grabbed his wife's arm and jacket and she pulled away even as she pushed him.

The case was being heard in federal court because the death occurred in a U.S. national park, which is owned by the federal government.