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Judge frees Montana bride accused of shoving husband off cliff

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday ordered a Montana woman who admitted killing her new husband by pushing him off a cliff to be released from jail and placed in her parents' custody pending trial, legal documents show.

Jordan Graham, 22, was arrested on Monday on a federal charge of second-degree murder stemming from the July 7 death of her husband of eight days, Cody Johnson, 25, of Kalispell.

Authorities claim Graham lied and tried to cover up the crime before confessing she shoved Johnson over a cliff at Glacier National Park during an argument and after expressing doubts about the marriage, court records showed.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch on Thursday freed Graham from jail without requiring her to post bond, provided she follow his conditions. These include wearing an electronic monitoring device while under her parents' supervision at their Kalispell home.

Federal prosecutors argued at a hearing on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Missoula that Graham should be jailed until trial because she had sent text messages that suggested she was possibly suicidal, according to legal documents.

Lynch on Thursday sided with Graham's public defenders, who previously contended that their client met key conditions that favored her release in that she was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.

Lynch said he was ordering mental health treatment for Graham "to alleviate any risk that she might harm herself."

Nearly two months elapsed between Graham's July 16 confession and her arrest on Monday by authorities, indicating that the U.S. government "did not believe Graham posed a significant danger to the community," the judge said.

Graham told a friend she was having second thoughts about marrying Johnson, whom she argued with while hiking a steep trail at Glacier on July 7, according to a sworn statement by FBI Special Agent Steven Liss.

Graham said Johnson grabbed her arm during the dispute.

"Graham stated she could have just walked away, but due to anger, she pushed Johnson with both hands in the back and as a result, he fell face first off the cliff," Liss said.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Bill Trott)

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