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Montana bride who pushed husband off cliff appeals 30-year sentence

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A Montana bride who pleaded guilty to pushing her husband off a cliff to his death at Glacier National Park is appealing her prison sentence, arguing the judge improperly denied her request to withdraw her plea after a deal with prosecutors unraveled.

Jordan Graham, 22, was sentenced last month to 30 years in prison by a federal judge after he rejected her move to rescind a guilty plea to second-degree murder that she took to avoid a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors later argued that Graham should be sentenced to life anyway, which prompted the defense to complain they were overreaching and spurred them to seek to rescind the plea.

Graham has admitted in court to pushing her husband of eight days off the edge of a cliff last July. She said that on the day he died, the newlyweds had driven to the Montana park and walked down to an embankment on the cliff face, where she told him she was unhappy and "wasn't sure we should be married."

Her husband, 25-year-old Cody Johnson, responded by grabbing her hand, she said.

"I told him to let go and I pushed his hand off," Graham said. "I just pushed his hand off and just pushed away."

In a notice of appeal filed late on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana, Graham's court-appointed lawyers said the judge erred during the March 27 sentencing by ruling against Graham's motion to withdraw her plea without hearing oral arguments.

They also argued that Judge Donald Molloy ignored Graham's contention that prosecutors had violated the plea deal by seeking a life sentence based on the claim that Graham acted with premeditation.

Graham's lawyers had argued for a sentence of 10 years in prison but prosecutors said a life sentence was warranted given Graham's lack of remorse and the "mental preparations" she made in advance of pushing Johnson to his death.

In sentencing Graham, Molloy said she "didn't have the human capacity to feel the wrongfulness of what she'd done."

"I kept waiting for her to say she was sorry for killing Cody. I didn't hear that," Molloy said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool)

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