Prosecutors said Graswald removed a nickle-sized drain plug to allow the kayak to fill with water

By Diane Herbst
July 24, 2017 04:14 PM

Angelika Graswald, charged with murdering her fiancé Vincent Viafore in 2015 by sabotaging his kayak before his fatal trip on the Hudson River, pleaded guilty Monday to criminally negligent homicide, PEOPLE confirms.

Graswald, 37, will be sentenced on Nov. 1, and is facing anywhere from 16 months to four years behind bars, with credit for time served, according to a press release from Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler. Since her April 30, 2015 arrest, Graswald has been awaiting trial in Orange County Jail.

According to her attorney, Richard Portale, Graswald “will be home in December.”

Graswald had been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Viafore, 46, whose body was recovered from the Hudson River in mid-May of 2015 after his kayak capsized on April 19. Prosecutors said Graswald removed a nickle-sized drain plug on the top of the kayak to allow it to fill with water and become unstable.

The press release states Graswald knew that the locking clip to Viaforte’s kayak paddle was missing, that he was not wearing a life vest or a wet suit, and that the waters in the Hudson River where they were kayaking were dangerously cold and rough at the time.

Allyse Pulliam/Times Herald-Record/AP

Prosecutors have said Graswald would have collected $250,000 in life insurance benefits from his death.

“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,” said Hoovler in a statement. “This plea ensures that the defendant will be held criminally liable for her actions. 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.”

Portale, Graswald’s attorney, had long maintained Viafore died accidentally when his kayak capsized and he fell into the cold and rough waters.

Allyse Pulliam/Times Herald-Record/AP

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In an interview with PEOPLE after the plea, Portale said Graswald “did not intend to kill him and that is a matter of record now,” adding that her crime “is a far cry from intentional murder.”

“She didn’t admit she intentionally removed the drain plug so he could die. She had taken it out sometime prior to April 19 and she didn’t know there was this risk. She failed to perceive this risk,” he said.

Explaining he and Graswald’s decision to accept the plea deal, Portale said, “Our job was to get her home and she will be home in December.”

Years of Denials

Graswald had steadfastly maintained her innocence. In three jailhouse interviews with PEOPLE, Graswald tearfully described Viaforte’s death as a tragic accident — and not a homicide.

“I’m numb. I’m devastated. The truth will prevail,” she told PEOPLE in 2015.

“I feel he’s always with me,” Graswald said. “He’s with me here.”

A New York State police investigator alleged at a pre-trial hearing in June 2016 that Graswald confessed to him that she caused Viaforte’s death because she was upset over their souring relationship.

Viafore’s alleged postponement of their wedding and desire to have threesomes made Graswald “feel trapped,” according to the officer’s testimony.

“I wanted to be free, I wanted him gone, I wanted to be myself,” Donald DeQuarto testified Graswald allegedly told him during a private one-hour conversation. The conversation took place at Bannerman Island in New York’s Hudson River on April 29, 2015 – ten days after Viafore’s kayak capsized nearby and he disappeared into the rough waters.

Allyse Pulliam/Times Herald-Record/AP

When DeQuarto asked Graswald how she felt about Viafore being dead, she allegedly said: “She said she felt fine, she was over it and she was herself. She felt free.”

“I asked her why she didn’t break up with him,” DeQuarto testified. “And she said she was a spiritual person” and that he would not be truly gone if she did.

Graswald is a lawful permanent resident and her guilty plea makes her liable for deportation, the DA’s press release states. The decision will be made by a federal judge.