Angelika Graswald Pleads Guilty To Reduced Charges, Likely to Receive Sentence Close to Time Served

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Graswald in Court


A woman who in 2015 told police her fiance died in a kayaking accident in the Hudson River pleaded guilty Monday to criminal negligent homicide, officials said.

Angelika Graswald, 37, had been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter following the death of Vincent Viafore, 46, who she claimed disappeared from his overturned kayak into freezing, turbulent waters on an April 2015 excursion.

Angelika Graswald had been facing murder and manslaughter charges in the April 2015 drowning death of 46-year-old Vincent Viafore. Prosecutors accuse Graswald of removing a drain plug from Viafore’s kayak and pushing a floating paddle away from him after his kayak capsized. “48 Hours” investigated the case in the episode, “Death on the Hudson.”

On April 19th of this year, Angelika Graswald (35) and her fiancé, Vince Viafore (46), decided to take in a few vistas from their kayaks on the Hudson River, on a day when the waters were draining faster than normal towards the sea. They were apparently headed for an island that supported the ruins of an old castle. They did not make it, Viafore presumably drowned, and Graswald has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with his death. The weather was in the 50’s, and the water temperature settled near 46 degrees. The two owned a couple of kayaks that were short in stature, and better designed for shooting Colorado Rapids in short runs, as opposed to the choppy and lengthy course the two had charted on the Hudson. Some seasoned kayakers say the conditions were not suited for the venture- it was too early.

After Viafore had fallen into the water, while not wearing his life jacket, Graswald says he disappeared from her sight; after falling into the water herself, she later managed to call 911 and was rescued by emergency personnel with the assistance of people from the Cornwall Yacht Club. Searchers later discovered Viafore’s kayak, a short distance from where his vessel purportedly capsized. His body has never been located.

The drowning death of Viafore has morphed from a mystery into a murder allegation, based mainly on circumstantial evidence and statements attributed to Graswald, and her curious, if not strange, actions since the drowning. For openers, prosecutors say she admitted to tampering with his kayak so that it would take on water, and then watched Viafore struggle in the water before he drowned. Prosecutors say she said, “. . .it felt good knowing he would die”. As to a motive, the state claims that Graswald stood to benefit from $250,000 in life insurance coverage, a claim the defense has already denied. Although the absence of a body poses some proof problems for the state, it is not as big an impediment as some may believe; conviction rates in murder cases where a body has not been found, are very high. The state  relied on some diary entries allegedly authored by Graswald wherein she says that Viafore was pressuring her to have a threesome and that “she wished he was dead.” Her lawyer has stressed that she may have faced a language barrier when giving her statements because she is originally from Latvia.

COMMENT: This appeared to be a thin case for the prosecutor. Troublesome evidence came from statements made by the defendant following the tragedy. As a practical matter, one would expect inconsistencies and partially assembled remarks made by a person shortly after such a traumatic event; she also was in the water and faced the possibility of drowning. Moreover, if there is merit to the defense contention that Graswald’s grasp of the English language is flawed, this factor, along with her existing anxiety, coupled with the typical exasperating nature of a police interrogation (strangers who are visually in a position of power), could have easily caused her to make inconsistent or untrue statements. So far, we do not find the remaining factors to be compelling. If she was upset with her fiancé, as the alleged diary remarks indicate, this certainly is not a motive for murder. If she was not listed as a beneficiary on the insurance policies, as the defense has apparently suggested, this is not a motive. Tampering with the kayak was somewhat more problematic.

The plea and anticipated sentence appear to proper in this case.

1 Comment
  1. bmiller says

    Good point.

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