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U.S. attorney asks judge to deny Graham's motion to withdraw plea

Published On: Mar 26 2014 01:16:53 PM MDT
Updated On: Mar 26 2014 06:29:34 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean wants the judge to deny a motion to allow Jordan Graham to withdraw her guilty plea.

Tuesday, two days before a scheduled sentencing hearing, Senior Litigator Michael Donahoe filed the motion asking that Graham be allowed to take back her plea to second-degree murder.

Graham entered the plea in December, four days into her trial, telling Judge Donald Molloy that she pushed her husband Cody Lee Johnson off a cliff in Glacier National Park in July.

As part of that plea, the government agreed to drop the first-degree murder charge and a charge for lying to authorities.

In court documents filed Tuesday, Donahoe claimed Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kris McLean and Zeno Baucus aren't putting the first-degree murder charge to rest, and continue to claim the murder was premeditated. 

Wednesday afternoon McLean asked Judge Molloy to deny Graham's request to take back her plea. "Because the motion is without merit, it should be denied," he wrote.

"The government's sentencing memorandum is designed to provide the Court with information drawn from the evidence presented at trial and the independent investigation.." he continued.

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When Graham entered changed her plea in December Molloy questioned her for nearly 40 minutes before he accepted her plea.

It's standard practice according to Missoula criminal defense attorney Craig Shannon. Shannon didn't weigh in on the Graham case specifically, but did give some perspective on how a change of plea works and how serious it is. 

"When the client enters the plea in general, the court goes through -- and especially in federal court -- the court goes through a litany of questions," Shannon said.

That's what happened with Graham. 

A transcript from the hearing shows Molloy asked her nearly dozen times if she understood what she was doing and understood the consequences of pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

"I'm talking more about the realization that in the next 15 minutes you might be committing yourself to a federal prison for the balance of your life....and do you understand that?" he asked.

Graham answered "Yes."

Shannon said because of the process to enter a plea in the first place, withdrawing a plea is even more difficult.

"First of all, it's taken very seriously," Shannon said.  "It's not something that a lawyer does on a whim."

Molloy has yet to file a decision on the motion to allow Graham to withdraw her plea. As it stands a sentencing hearing is still scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.