Fiancée convicted in Hudson River kayak death
05/01/2018 6:49 pm PDT
UPDATE August 13, 2018:
CBS New York reports, that after months of negotiations, attorneys announced a settlement.
Angelika Graswald walked out of the Dutchess County courtroom without a word, but with a decision. She is entitled to at least a portion of her deceased fiancé's life insurance payout, CBS News reports.
"There is a financial settlement, the amount of which is confidential," said Anthony Piscionere, Graswald's attorney.
May 1, 2018:
A high-profile case in New York that involves an adventurous couple out enjoying their passion, a terrible tragedy, and a controversial ending that has some wondering if the truth will ever surface.
It was on the Hudson River that one man lost his life, leaving his family in anguish and his fiancée under the microscope.
Vince Viafore was the definition of a New York Italian mama's boy. The athletic altar boy tried college and learned it wasn't not for him. So he worked, got married, and with his wife he found a new hobby: kayaking. Unfortunately, the marriage didn't last. But what does is Vinny's passion for paddling.
"He loved the Hudson River," said Mary Ann Viafore, Vinny's mother.
Not far from the Hudson and Vinny's home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a beautiful blonde bartender from Latvia named Angelika Graswald is serving up drinks with a song and a smile.
The multi-talented former nanny is also a kayaker. So when 44-year-old Vinny and 34-year-old Angelika met, the attraction was instant, and mutual. They're inseparable.
"She was not really a warm and fuzzy-type person," said Mary Ann. "She is Russian, so she, I guess they have a different culture, a different way of looking at things. It wasn't me that was going to go out with her. If Vinny was happy, that's what counted."
And it seems like Angelika makes Vinny very happy. Within a few months, she moves in.
"Fast. And not too long after that he asked her to marry him," said Mary Ann.
Angelika quit her job at the bar, and while Vinny was hard at work, Angelika spent her days doing yoga and taking photos.
"He took care of her. He put her on his insurance policy because he wanted to claim her as a domestic partner so she could be under his health insurance," said Mary Ann. "She was a beneficiary along with my daughter and myself."
Angelika does have one job. She volunteers as a gardener on Bannerman's Island, a century-old abandoned island on the Hudson River once used as a warehouse to store weapons and military equipment.
"Castle ruins, and people go there, so she would volunteer there," said Mary Ann.
It would be a trip home from that very island that would sink the unsinkable.
It was a chilly afternoon in April 2015, a little after 4 p.m. Vinny and Angelika decide to kayak from Plum Point to Bannerman's Island. It's their first time taking this route.
They get to the island, take some photos, then notice a change in the weather, so they get back in their kayaks. The trip back will take about 40 minutes.
Then around 7:40 p.m., about 20 minutes from shore:
911: "911, where is your emergency?"
Graswald: "Hi, I'm in the Hudson River by Cornwall Yacht Club, my fiancé fell in the water, can you please call anybody?"
911: "What's your name?"
911: "Tell me exactly what happened."
Graswald: "We are kayaking, my fiancé flipped over, he's in the water right now."
911: "All right, stay on the phone with me, OK."
Graswald: "I can't get to him. It's very windy and waves are coming in and I can't, I can't paddle to him. He's, he's getting he's getting further and further away from me. He's gonna drown, please call somebody."
911: "We've got help on the way, stay on the phone with me, OK?"
Graswald: "OK. I have you on the speaker because I'm starting to paddle. The waves are very strong. I can still see him floating but I'm getting further and further."
911: "OK, so he's still above water, right?"
Graswald: "He's in the water, yes. Hold on baby! Oh my God."
911: "We've got everybody coming out there, OK?"
Graswald: "OK. I can't see him anymore."
911: "You don't see him?"
Graswald: "No. Oh my God. Oh!"
The call drops. The operator calls Angelika back.
Graswald: "I don't see him anymore. Vince! I'm afraid he's drowned."
911: "OK, what's his name?"
Graswald: "Vince. Oh my God. I'm in a red kayak, but he fell in and I couldn't swim to him, I couldn't paddle to him."
911: "Did he have a life jacket on when he flipped over?"
Graswald: "He had a little, like a floating thing, he didn't have a vest. Oh my God."
911: "Can you see the kayak still?"
Graswald: "No, the kayak went underwater. The water is very cold, I'm afraid he, oh my God."
911: "Can you see the rescue boat? We have a boat in the water coming out to you guys."
Graswald: "I'm not worried about myself, I'm worried about him."
When help arrives, rescuers pluck Angelika from the frigid waters. There is no sign of Vinny anywhere.
Vince Viafore is missing somewhere in the Hudson River.
When rescuers arrive, they pull Angelika Graswald from the 46-degree water and take her to the hospital.
"She seemed very quiet," said New York State Police Investigator Donald DeQuarto. "She said that as a result of the conditions, he flipped over into the water and she was unable to get to him."
Detective Donald DeQuarto and senior investigator Neil Moscato promise to call Angelika with updates, and tell her she can also call them.
"My heart ached for her," said Moscato.
The next morning, as Vince's mom Mary Ann Viafore is getting ready for work, she receives the worst call of her life. Mary Ann says Vinny's family, friends and Angelika all go looking for him.
Cops find Vince's blue kayak near Plum Point, where the trip began. But the efforts to find Vince turn up empty.
Over the next several days, the search for the 46-year-old intensifies. While police are out searching, Angelika, to some, is dealing with Vinny's disappearance in a peculiar way.
"She looked like she was having a good time," said Mary Ann. "We had his friends over at my daughter's house, and she was doing cartwheels in the backyard. She was doing cartwheels."
Cartwheels -- and karaoke.
"Some of his friends got together at one of the restaurants, and she was there singing, they said, having a good time. And they were all looking at her kind of strange, as this doesn't seem right," said Mary Ann.
"She was posting pictures of herself doing shots, smoking cigars, doing cartwheels, just seemed like she was having a great time," said Donald DeQuarto.
"At one point she invited me and the others to suspend our search in the frigid waters and go have a drink with her at a party that she was celebrating Vinny's life," said Neil Moscato. "We respectfully declined to go to the event. I didn't think it was crazy odd, because everybody reacts differently."
Ten days in, and still no sign of Vinny. So Moscato and DeQuarto, along with a third investigator, decide to take a trip to Bannerman's Island, hoping to find something they may have missed, something that can help lead them to Vinny.
The night before, DeQuarto had a conversation with Angelika, telling her they were going to be going to Bannerman's Island.
"She said 'Oh good, maybe I'll see you out there because I want to do a release of flowers, or a ceremony, in memory of Vincent,'" said DeQuarto.
The next day, on the way out to the island, Moscato's phone rings. It's Angelika confirming she'll be there soon.
"I said 'Oh, what are you going over there for?' And she actually said 'I'm going there to clean up,'" said Moscato. "I said 'What do you mean by that?' She says 'Oh, I'm part of the preservation society over there.'
"So I left off with her, 'OK, well maybe we'll see you there later on.' So we went to the island and we looked around. Didn't really find anything," said Moscato. "But I made the decision, I said 'You know what, Angelika said she was coming over here, let's give her a couple minutes and maybe we can just go over, retrace the steps.'"
When Angelika arrives, Moscato suggests together they recreate what she and Vinny did that day.
"It was during that time that her behavior became very, very bizarre, in my eyes," said Moscato. "She was holding her stomach. She had two cigarettes in a matter of 20 minutes, and then she had to go to the bathroom."
"We asked her to bring us up to where they were on the island, and we began walking up the trail, and at that point she's becoming visibly upset, she begins crying, see some tears in her eyes," said DeQuarto.
"She was just not focused. She was all over the place," said Moscato. "To the point where I told her, 'Angelika, what is wrong with you?'"
The investigators are about to get an earful.
"She begins to open up about her sex life with Vincent and how he made these sexual demands towards her, and that it really, really bothered her," said DeQuarto.
"At that point, I put myself in Angelika's shoes," said Moscato. "Would I really want to tell my sexual activity with my fiancé with three state police investigators? So, I said to her 'Listen, would you feel more comfortable just talking to one of us?' She said yes. I asked her who, and she chose to speak to Investigator DeQuarto."
So DeQuarto and Angelika walk away and find a spot to talk.
"She smoked a cigarette, and then she looks up at me and she says 'You know about the plug, right?'" said DeQuarto.
"She looks up at me and she says 'You know about the plug, right?'" said New York State Police Detective Donald DeQuarto. "And at that point I didn't know what she was talking about, so I said tell me about it, she says he didn't have the plug in the kayak, and I said is that why his kayak sunk, and she's like yes. I said did you take it out, she said 'Yes, I, I think I did.'
"She goes on to also tell me about a ring that was on a paddle that she had taken off to disable and dismantle his paddle so it was inoperable," said DeQuarto. "I said 'Did you take the plug out and take the ring off the paddle because you wanted him dead?' And she says 'Yes, I guess I did.' And I said 'Was there a point where you could've helped him or saved him but you didn't?' And she says 'Yes.' I said 'So you didn't help him?' She says no. And I said why? She says 'I wanted him gone. I wanted to be free and I wanted to be myself.'
"It wasn't anything that we expected to hear, because we had went there to do a search of the island. We had nothing with us, we had no pens," said DeQuarto.
You weren't recording her.
You don't place her under arrest.
"I don't handcuff her. I don't place her under arrest," said DeQuarto. "However, she just confessed murder, so she wasn't free to leave, per se. I saw the other investigators, I said 'You're not gonna believe this.'"
On the boat ride back across the Hudson, on the very waters where Vinny disappeared, Detective Neil Moscato says Angelika does something else that shocks investigators.
"She throws up her hands and she says 'I'm free,'" said Moscato. "We're looking at each other, likw, 'Doesn't this girl get it? She pretty much confessed to murder, how free can you be?'"
Angelika Graswald, 35, is brought back to the State Police barracks for questioning. After she's read her rights, the 11-hour head-spinning interview begins.
None of her alleged statements on Bannerman's Island were recorded, so cops needed her to confess on tape.
Angelika Graswald has been at New York State Police barracks for several hours, eating pizza, smoking and practicing yoga into the night.
But investigators are frustrated, because the one thing she hasn't done is confess the way they say she did on Bannerman's Island.
"By taking that plug out, you killed Vinny, correct?"
"And you wanted that to happen, correct?"
"Angelika, the reality is this: you killed Vinny. Right?"
"The [----] statement."
"What is it?"
"I wanted him dead and now he's gone and I'm OK with it. I'm OK with that."
Is that the admission they'd been waiting for?
"Well, Angelika, here's the thing, OK, is that when somebody's dead, there's a certain amount of accountability that we all have to take, right?"
"Yes. Am I going to jail?"
"I'd say it's a pretty good possibility, yes. You knew that, right, when you came here?"
But even though she's headed to the slammer, she suddenly seems much more concerned about someone else.
"What about Rascal?"
"We will take care of your cat, I promise you that."
"OK, get my cat and get him to me, bring him to me."
"Your cat can't come with you."
Over the next few hours, Angelika Graswald passes the time writing, stretching, meditating, and unbelievably, playing hopscotch.
Then the time for kids' games is up.
"She's charged with murder in the second degree," said Donald DeQuarto.
When Vince Viafore's mother Mary Ann learns Angelika Graswald has been arrested for her son's murder, she's in complete shock.
"They told me that she caused his death, and it was just mind-boggling. I couldn't believe it," said Mary Ann.
Police have the person they believe is responsible for Vince's death, but they still don't have his body.
Then, an agonizing 34 days after Vince Viafore's kayak capsized, his badly decomposed body is recovered. Officials need dental records to make a proper identification. He was found near Bannerman's Island.
New York State Police have found Vince Viafore, and they have his alleged confessed killer locked up for second-degree murder, but even with all that, they still have to be able to prove everything in court.
So they start with investigating some unanswered questions, like, Why did Vince agree to go kayaking that day in 46-degree waters?
"One or two of his friends told him, 'What are you crazy? It's cold, you shouldn't be going, don't go kayaking,'" said New York State Police Detective Neil Moscato. "I think she made it very, very appealing to him obviously for them to go out there that day.
"From what we know today, she brought out some clothing that she dressed up in and they took pictures, and she was wearing her sexy lingerie," said Moscato.
Not long after that epic 11-hour police interview, Angelika Graswald hires defense attorney Richard Portale, and he says everybody's gotten it dead wrong.
Starting with the alleged bombshell confession on Bannerman's Island, Portale says it never happened, that cops made it all up.
"They heard she was going to the island and they set on her like a pack of wolves, three armed male senior investigators, and they pulled her to an isolated spot and they beat her up emotionally, and we have witnesses that saw it," said Portale.
"They were trying to conjure up a confession and they didn't get it, and we know that they didn't get it because they didn't arrest her," said Portale. "If she had confessed, they would have put her in handcuffs, they would have read her her rights. That's not what happened."
And Portale says detectives' behavior during that 11-hour interview proves it.
But what about what Angelika can clearly be heard saying on that interrogation video?
"I wanted him dead and now he's gone, and I'm OK with it."
Portale says that does not make her a maritime murderer.
"That's not a confession. That's not 'I killed him,'" said Portale. "It just wasn't a confession."
And when it comes to that missing drain plug police say Angelika confessed to pulling out of Vince's kayak, Portale says that didn't happen either, that Vince often kayaked without it in so that he could use the drain-plug hole to strap the kayak to his car.
But even so, Portale says the missing plug wasn't the cause of Vince's death.
And as for the alleged motive, cops say it was the insurance money. Did the unemployed bartender have dollar bills on the brain?
"She's not somebody who cares about money. She's not interested in money. She's a very simple girl from a simple country who cares more about flowers and photographs and sunsets than she does about money," said Richard Portale.
Portale says the bottom line is his client is not responsible for Vince Viafore's death.
"I think it was a tragedy that was caused by a combination of Mother Nature and two people who were not careful. I'm sorry, but he did not respect Mother Nature, the 44-degree water, and he's not wearing a life vest," said Portale.
Was she wearing a life vest that day?
"She was, yeah," said Portale.
Why wasn't he?
"He didn't own one," said Portale. "Let's let that sink in for a second. He didn't own a life vest. That's not Ms. Graswald's error."
Whether or not it was Angelika's error, that would be up to the jury.
Angelika Graswald is on the eve of standing trial for the murder of her fiancé Vince Viafore. Then, in an unbelievable turn, Orange County, New York prosecutors offer her a plea deal to criminally negligent homicide.
Why was there a plea offer, and why was the plea offer accepted?
"Well, I can't tell you why a plea was offered, but I can tell you that the prosecution probably knew that we knew a lot of the things that the public didn't know, and they knew that this case was not strong, and if we pushed, that it was all going to come out," said Angelika's defense attorney Richard Portale.
It's a huge victory for the defense.
"That crime is the equivalent of 'keying' a Mercedes, it's the equivalent of stealing a thousand and one dollars. It is the lowest felony on the books," said Portale.
Angelika was sentenced to one and half to four years. And after time served and time off for good behavior, Angelika is released after serving 32 months.
A lot of people were outraged that she spent such little time behind bars.
"More people were outraged that she spent a day behind bars," said Portale.
One of those most outraged Angelika's walking the streets a free woman is Vince Viafore's mother Mary Ann.
"I don't feel that justice was served by her getting out," said Mary Ann. "The judge said that she did nothing to help him. At her sentencing, he said 'If you wanted out of the relationship, you should have just left.' That's when he called her 'narcissistic.'"
Has she ever publicly stated she was sorry or offered anything to you and your family?
"No," said Mary Ann.
And closure for Mary Ann Viafore will have to wait. They have filed a notice of appeal, and in what some may call a brazen move, Angelika Griswald is fighting for the very thing cops believe was her motive to kill: her portion of Vince's insurance money.
Does she deserve it?
"Well, she would never see a dime of it," said Richard Portale.
It's going to go to you.
"She had signed it all over to the defense team," said Portale.
It's been reported that her defense is in excess of half a million dollars at this point. Is that accurate?
"That's true. Yeah. $542,000, to be exact. So. But she's home," said Portale.
Investigators Moscato and DeQuarto say despite the outcome and the controversy surrounding the case, they are proud of the work they and so many others have done.
"As an agency, very proud of what we did," said Neil Moscato. "Very proud of what Donny DeQuarto did, because let's face it, if it weren't for his interview, she would have gotten away with murder."
There are critics out there and people who look at this case and have negative things to say.
"Well, as the lead investigator on this case I can say that I know what she did, I know what she told me, and any other critic that has anything to say about that doesn't know the truth," said Donald DeQuarto.
Crime Watch Daily repeatedly asked the prosecutor's office for an on-camera interview about the case and the plea deal given to Angelika Graswald. Instead we received a statement that says, in part: "Since Ms. Graswald pleaded guilty ... and has executed a waiver of her right to appeal, the case is over and as such we have no further comment. -- Christopher Borek, Chief Assistant District Attorney, Orange County, New York"
As for Angelika Griswald, she remains on parole and her immigration status is unclear, meaning it's possible that she could be deported.
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