Sign in / Join
2047

Woman pleads guilty to killing fiancé during kayaking trip

Graswald entered a guilty plea to criminally negligent homicide in the death of Vincent Viafore.

John Ferro/Poughkeepsie Journal

(Photo: Heather Yakin/Times Herald-Record)

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — Angelika Graswald, accused of causing the drowning death of her fiancé during a kayaking trip, entered a guilty plea to criminally negligent homicide in Orange County Court Monday.

In exchange for her plea, she agreed to a sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison, the maximum sentence allowed for criminally negligent homicide. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 1.

Graswald was facing charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection to the death of her fiancé, Vincent Viafore.

She was accused of killing the 46-year-old Poughkeepsie man during a Hudson River kayaking trip the couple took to Bannerman Island on April 19, 2015.

As part of her plea, she admitted she caused Viafore’s death by removing the plug from his kayak, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office.

(Photo: McHoul Funeral home, courtesy photo)

She also admitted she was aware that the locking clip on one of his paddles was missing, that he was not wearing a life vest or a wet suit and that the river waters were dangerously cold at the time.

Those admissions constitute actions that are a "gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would have observed in the situation" and caused Viafore’s death, prosecutors said in the statement.

The surprise plea was announced by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Graswald had last appeared in court before Judge Robert Freehill on July 17, at which time her murder trial appeared to be on track to start in mid-August.

Related:

Prosecutors said the plea was entered into after extensive consultation with Viafore’s family.

“While no outcome can compensate for the loss of a beloved son, brother and uncle, this disposition will hopefully bring a measure of closure to the Viafore family,” Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler said. “… By pleading guilty, the defendant has acknowledged that Vincent Viafore’s death was not simply a tragic accident, but the result of this defendant’s criminal conduct.”

The District Attorney’s Office had alleged Viafore’s life insurance was one of Graswald’s motives for murder. As primary beneficiary on Viafore’s two policies, Graswald stood to collect $250,000 in the event of his death.

Graswald’s defense team maintained that the death of Viafore, who wasn’t wearing a life vest and had a blood alcohol content of .06, was a tragic accident, according to Journal archives.

A native of Latvia, Graswald will also be liable for deportation, despite being a lawful, permanent resident of the United States. That decision would be up to a federal judge, prosecutors said.

Graswald has been held in Orange County Jail since her arrest on April 30, 2015.

In an interview, Orange County Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Borek said Graswald’s time served in the county jail will count toward her time in state prison. She will be immediately eligible for parole, he said.

Taking the plea “guaranteed she would be home by December,” said Graswald’s attorney, Richard Portale, in a phone interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal. “We have maintained from the beginning this was not an intentional killing. This resolution supports that.”

Graswald will be released by late December and will have to stay in New York for another 16 months after that, on parole, Portale said.

“Our job was always to get her home,” Portale said. “She is very much looking forward to coming home. She struggled mightily with the plea allocution in court today.”

Portale said Graswald “broke down in tears" during the allocution. "She loved Vince very much. She never thought her actions would have caused his death.”

Timeline of events

April 19, 2015: Angelika Graswald and Vincent Viafore take a kayaking trip on the Hudson River to Bannerman Island. During the return trip, Viafore’s kayak capsized and he went missing.

April 30, 2015: Graswald, who investigators later testify was unusually "calm" after she was rescued from the river, is arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

May 23, 2015: Viafore’s body is found in the Hudson River.

May 29, 2015: Graswald pleads not guilty to second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

June 6, 2016: A Huntley hearing begins to determine if several pieces of evidence will be admissible, including an alleged confession and a video of an 11-hour police interrogation. The hearing lasts five days.

Dec. 16, 2016: Judge Robert Freehill rules prosecutors can use the majority of videotaped evidence and other statements made by Graswald to police, and sets Feb. 14, 2017, as the date jury selection will begin.

Feb. 14: Due to delays, jury selection is rescheduled for March 13.

July 17: After several more delays and postponements, jury selection for the trial is scheduled again for Aug. 15.

July 24: Graswald pleads guilty to criminally negligent homicide in Orange County Court, accepting a sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison. With time served in county jail, she will immediately be eligible for parole, Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Borek said.

Follow John Ferro and Nina Schutzman on Twitter: @PoJoEnviro and @pojonschutzman