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Appeals court upholds 30-year sentence for Montana woman who pushed husband off a cliff


MISSOULA, Montana — An appeals court has upheld the 30-year prison sentence for a woman who admitted to pushing her husband to his death off a cliff in Glacier National Park in July 2013, just days after they married.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that federal prosecutors did not breach an agreement with Jordan Graham, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Cody Johnson, 25.

The plea agreement was reached in December 2013, after jurors heard the evidence in Graham's trial but before closing arguments were made.

During oral arguments two weeks ago in Portland, Oregon, Graham's attorney said prosecutors unfairly claimed at sentencing that Johnson's death was premeditated and argued for a sentence in line with premeditated first-degree murder.

If Graham had been convicted of second-degree murder prosecutors could have still made the same sentencing recommendation that they did, Justice Marsha Berzon noted.

The justices ruled Thursday that the plea deal did not prohibit such arguments.

The justices also noted that U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy didn't even sentence Graham to the low end of the 50 years-to-life sentence recommended by prosecutors.

The panel also found that Molloy did not abuse his discretion in denying Graham's motion to withdraw her guilty plea after prosecutors submitted their sentencing memo.

The justices rejected several other arguments by defense attorney Michael Donahoe that sought to reduce Graham's sentence. He was not available Friday morning for comment on whether he planned to ask a full panel of the appeals court to consider his arguments.

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