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.
In her account of the incident, which she explained in an interview a week before her arrest, Graswald and Viafore both struggled against the high winds and choppy waves that overtook their kayaks as they paddled in a stretch of the Hudson about 50 miles north of New York City.
“He was trying to figure out how to paddle the waves … and then I just saw him flip. Right in front of me,” she told News 12. “I keep paddling towards him saying, ‘Just hold on, hold on.’ And he said, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna make it.’”
Police found discrepancies with her story and charged her with murder 11 days later. Viafore’s body was found more than a month after the incident.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler, who announced the plea deal, did not immediately return calls for comment.
Graswald admitted in June 2016 that she removed a drain plug from Viafore’s kayak, which would have allowed water to rush in and disrupt its buoyancy. Graswald also said she knew a locking clip was off his paddle, according go the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Prosecutors have said she may have been compelled to kill Viafore due to his $250,000 life insurance policy.
Graswald told investigators “it felt good knowing he was going to die.” Following Viafore’s disappearance, friends of Graswald said his absence provoked behavior “as if a huge weight had fallen off her.”
Her attorney, Richard Portale, maintained during his defense that Viafore’s death was at the tragic nexus of freezing water, harsh waves and alcohol use.
“She loved Vincent. She cared for him. Never in her wildest dreams did her conduct cause his death,” Portale told The Washington Post. But after 27 months in jail, Graswald now understands her decisions started a fatal chain of events, Portale said.
“[Graswald] admitted today that the conduct she engaged in and the totality of circumstances did create a risk of death,” Portale said, referring to the drain plug removal and the missing paddle clip.
After Graswald’s confession, in which she said she was having relationship issues with Viafore, Graswald told investigators: “I’m free.” Her trial was set to begin in August after several delays, New York Times reported.
A conviction for criminally negligent homicide, which is a charge of contributing to death based on actions or failures to act, carries a maximum sentence of four years in state prison and fines in New York.
Portale said Graswald will be free at the end of December following 27 months time served and agreed upon time between the judge, prosecutors and defense team.