Bride admits killing new husband pushing him over cliff after eight days of marriage
A newlywed bride has admitted killing her husband of eight days by pushing him from a cliff in a US national park while they argued over her second thoughts about the marriage.
The surprise plea agreement with prosecutors came just before closing arguments were set to begin in the trial of Jordan Graham, 22.
In exchange for the guilty plea to second-degree murder, prosecutors agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge and a count of making a false statement to authorities.
Graham could face a maximum sentence of life in prison when she is sentenced on March 27.
In accepting the plea, US District Judge Donald Molloy told Graham to recount exactly what happened on the night of July 7 when her husband, Cody Johnson, 25, fell to his death in Glacier National Park, Montana.
Graham said she decided to confront Mr Johnson about her doubts and she did not know how he would take it. They climbed down a treacherous slope below a popular spot in the park called The Loop and spoke on a narrow ledge hundreds of feet above a ravine.
She said she told Mr Johnson she was not happy and was not feeling like she should after getting married. They argued and at one point, she said, he grabbed her by the arm and she thought he was going to pull her.
She told the judge she got angry at him, brushed his hand away then pushed him, with one hand on his arm and one on his back.
"I wasn't thinking about where we were. I just pushed," Graham told the judge.
She said she then drove back to her home in Kalispell without calling for help because she was so afraid she did not know what to do.
Graham's mother, Lindy Rutledge, buried her head in her husband's jacket sleeve as the judge questioned her daughter. US marshals then led Graham away in handcuffs.
Afterward, federal public defender Michael Donahoe said prosecutors had proposed the plea agreement, and that it was Graham's choice to accept it.
Mr Johnson was reported missing on July 8 when he failed to show up for work.
Graham initially told investigators that he left their house late on July 7 with unidentified friends in a dark-coloured car with Washington state licence plates. Friends of Mr Johnson testified they were suspicious of the story and suspected Graham played a role in his disappearance.
Graham showed police a fabricated email purportedly from a friend of Mr Johnson that said he was dead and to call off the search. The next day, she told Glacier park rangers she had found his body near The Loop because it was a place he wanted to see before he died.
She finally acknowledged she was with Mr Johnson on the cliff after investigators confronted her with a security camera photo of the couple entering the park.
Prosecutors presented jurors with dozens of text messages between Graham and her friend from church, Kimberly Martinez, that documented how Graham's nervous excitement at the prospect of the wedding turned into despair over the week that followed.
Graham's attorneys said her doubts about her marriage did not mean that she would intentionally harm him.
They attempted to chip away at the prosecution's image of Graham as a cold, dispassionate woman who did not want to marry Mr Johnson, and their contention that she led him to a dangerous precipice in the park and deliberately pushed him to his death.
They showed the jurors pictures and videos of Graham smiling as she had her hair done and tried on her borrowed wedding dress, then videos of the June 29 wedding and the couple's first dance.