Angelika Graswald’s case was puzzling from the beginning. And now it has ended, still essentially a puzzle.
At first, it seemed like an accident. But after Graswald gave conflicting and callous statements about Viafore’s death in a police interrogation, prosecutors in Orange County, N.Y., charged her with second-degree murder. They said she wanted out of the relationship and had sabotaged his boat in hopes of killing him. She also had a financial motive, they alleged: His death would have given her a shot at his $250,000 life insurance policy.
The Hitchcock-like intrigue brought national attention to the case. The CBS News show “48 Hours” devoted an entire episode, titled “Death on the Hudson,” to dissecting the relationship between Graswald and 46-year-old Viafore, and investigating the tactics police used during her interrogation.
Graswald, 37, and her defense attorneys insisted on her innocence, saying police had coerced incriminating statements out of her. But in July, shortly before the case was set to go to trial, Graswald pleaded guilty to criminal negligent homicide, admitting that she had removed a drain plug from his kayak and knew that a locking clip on one of the paddles was missing before they went out. She also said she knew he was at risk because he had been drinking and had left shore without a life jacket, and that she did not help him as he flailed in the water.
On Wednesday, Graswald was sentenced to up to four years in state prison, as the Associated Press reported. She could be paroled before the end of the year, having received credit for time-served.
The sentencing closes the books on the case, but seems to leave a number of issues unresolved.
In court, Judge Robert Freehill said the apparent sabotage of Viafore’s kayak wasn’t the main issue. Rather, he said, it was Graswald’s inaction as Viafore struggled in the cold, choppy waters and her failure to “perceive a substantial risk.”
“Was it removing a plug from the kayak, which appears to have been done months ago? Was it tampering with the clip on the paddle? Not really,” the judge said, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. “It was the immediate acts of you being in your [kayak] and Vincent floundering in the water and you not taking any steps to try to help him.”
Freehill added that Graswald’s self-absorption was a factor in Viafore’s death. “You could have walked out on Vinny if you were unhappy,” he said, “rather than whatever it was in your mind that led to removing the plug and the other acts you took.”
None of the parties signaled they were pleased with the outcome.
“I loved Vince very much and miss him terribly,” Graswald said in a statement through her lawyer, Richard Portale, according to the Associated Press. “I don’t believe I was treated fairly. This entire process was incredibly one-sided and unjust.”
“I am not a murderer,” she said. “I’ve said that from the beginning. If I could do anything to bring Vince back, I would.”
Viafore’s relatives also expressed disappointment.
“As far as I’m concerned, we did not get justice,” his mother, Mary Ann Viafore, told NBC New York.
His sister, Laura Rice, read a victim impact statement before the judge issued the sentence, imploring him to give Graswald the maximum punishment.
“My brother did not deserve to have his life end this way,” Rice said, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. “Our family feels Angelika should be held accountable for the actions she has admitted to … a short, four-year-sentence does not seem just. Serving a portion of that sentence seems even more unjust.”
“When I think of my brother’s last moments alive,” Rice added, “I think of the pain he must have endured and I visualize him trying to survive hypothermia in the freezing cold river, confused and not understanding why the woman who said she loved him and wanted to marry him did nothing to help him.”
Graswald’s defense attorneys had previously argued that police coerced statements out of her during an 11-hour interrogation in 2015. They also said that removing the kayak plug would not have caused it to fill with water, and that rough waves could have more easily caused it to capsize. They noted that it was Viafore’s own decision not to wear a life jacket and that his blood alcohol level was .06.
Graswald, a Latvian immigrant, could face deportation after her sentence is complete. She was the main beneficiary on Viafore’s life insurance policy, under which she could have received $250,000, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. She could still take legal action to claim those assets.
More from Morning Mix: