Orange County DA defends plea deal for woman in fiance's kayak death

GOSHEN, New York (WABC) -- Prosecutors explained Tuesday why they decided to cut a plea deal with a woman charged with killing her fiance during a kayaking trip on the Hudson River.

Angelika Graswald pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide in her fiance's death in April 2015.

Graswald, who had been facing murder and manslaughter charges, had been in custody awaiting trial.

"I thought justice was done by this plea," said District Attorney David Hoovler, Orange County.

Graswald admits that she pulled the plug to the kayak, knew the drain plug was out, and the ring was not on the paddle of Vincent Viafore's kayak.

She also admitted to knowing that the weather would be dangerous, knew he was drinking, and also that he was not wearing gear and that caused a risk of death that she failed to perceive.

At a news conference Tuesday, Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler offered a defense of why he entered and approved the plea agreement.

He revealed that his office's lengthy investigation uncovered several mitigating factors that could have made the original charge of second-degree murder difficult to prove.

"Certain difficulties presented themselves during the course of the case or during the course of the investigation," Hoovler said.

During the 11-hour investigation, Graswald did not, despite widespread media reports, provide a direct confession, Hoovler said.

Also, even though Graswald acknowledged removing the plug from her fiance's kayak, investigators found a picture of Viafore in the kayak. It did not have the plug in it, and the picture was snapped before the day he drowned.

"We learned early on that there were incidents where they had kayaked together where the plug was not in. And again, that was an extreme mitigating factor," Hoovler said.

Lastly, in another difficulty for prosecutors, they acknowledge that the victim had been drinking on that Sunday morning, that he too was aware of the wind and water conditions, and that he chose not to wear a wet suit or life vest.

"Although her actions undoubtedly put in motion a chain of events which caused the victim's death, merely removing the plug alone, absent all the other attendant facts and circumstances, would not have been sufficient to cause his death," said Hoovler.

He consulted with Viafore's family before the plea agreement.

"There's a really big difference between an intentional murder and a criminally negligent homicide. There's a world of difference there," said Richard Portale, Graswald's attorney.

Graswald told ABC News in an interview broadcast in November that she loved Viafore and wouldn't have done anything to kill him. She said she's a good person, not a killer.

Graswald was arrested on April 30, 2015, and Viafore's body was found almost a month later. Prosecutors said the missing plug from Viafore's kayak was found in the car Graswald was driving. Officials had argued a $250,000 life insurance policy was the motivation.

Her attorney, Richard Portale, said, "We've maintained from the very beginning this was not an intentional act."

Graswald faces one to four years behind bars when she is sentenced on November 1st. Portale said with the time she's already been in custody she would likely be out by late December.

Hoovler said the guilty plea will make Graswald, who has legal permanent U.S. residency, liable to be deported. Portale said if the federal government filed to have her deported, there would be a court proceeding to contest it.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.