National News

Woman Who Sabotaged Her Fiancé’s Kayak Is Released 5 Months After Guilty Plea

Posted December 21, 2017 5:24 p.m. EST

BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. — Angelika Graswald was released from a New York state prison on Thursday, about five months after she pleaded guilty to sabotaging her fiance's kayak before he drowned in the cold and choppy waters of the Hudson River in 2015.

She emerged to a sunny afternoon from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a women’s prison in the rolling woods of Westchester County. Graswald declined to talk to reporters, but stood next to her lawyer, fidgeting and looking away from the bank of cameras, as he made a brief statement.

“She’s grateful to be able to breathe in the fresh air, walk in the fresh air,” her lawyer, Richard A. Portale, said, standing across the street from the prison, on a hill where journalists had been camped out.

The case generated attention far beyond the area just north of New York City where her fiancé disappeared, fueled by prosecutors’ description of a seemingly doting partner who desperately called 911 for help only to later tell investigators that “I wanted him dead.”

Graswald, who initially was charged with second-degree murder, was sentenced in November to up to four years in prison after she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of criminally negligent homicide. She had been detained for a total of 32 months, since she was arrested in April 2015, in connection with the death of her fiancé, Vincent Viafore.

The couple was on a kayaking trip on April 19, 2015, returning to the western shore of the Hudson River, when Viafore disappeared into the water after his kayak capsized several miles north of West Point. His body was found the next month.

Graswald was arrested 10 days after his disappearance and taken into custody after an encounter with investigators on Bannerman Island, which she had visited with Viafore on the day of their kayak trip. She had returned there to leave flowers in his honor, officials said.

Officials said that Graswald had removed a plug from the boat and knew that a locking clip that kept the paddle in place was missing. Prosecutors also said she pulled away Viafore’s paddle as he struggled in the water.

During a lengthy interrogation, officials said, Graswald made statements implicating herself, telling investigators that it “felt good knowing he was going to die” and that his drowning had brought her “relief.” Prosecutors said she knew she was the beneficiary of two life insurance policies belonging to Viafore.

But in a television interview, Graswald said that she loved Viafore and said that she told investigators what she thought they wanted to hear after hours of questioning. Her lawyer also added that because Graswald, a native of Latvia, is not a native English speaker, a language barrier limited her understanding of her rights.

In July, less than a month before her trial was set to begin on the second-degree murder charge, facing up to life in prison, Graswald pleaded guilty to the lesser charge after reaching an agreement with prosecutors.

Prosecutors said that they had increased doubts over the likelihood of a conviction, given her conflicting statements and that investigators had found, after extensive tests, that removing the plug was not, in itself, enough to cause the kayak to capsize.

“Everyone wants more, but in this case, we had to make sure there was a certain outcome and that somebody was held responsible, and that’s what we did,” David M. Hoovler, the Orange County district attorney, said in a news conference in July. “There was a very good chance that if this case went to trial, you don’t know what a jury was going to do.”

After her release on Thursday, Portale said that Graswald first hoped to have a video chat with her family and reconnect with them “in a meaningful way.” She was going to stay with a woman who helps inmates reintegrate after their release, Portale said.

“Reconnecting is going to be difficult, and reconstructing her life is going to be difficult,” he said. “Her day-to-day, her reality, is much different than it was 32 months ago. She’s excited to be able to do that. At this point, we’re going to get started.”