But prosecutors tell a very different story.
On Wednesday, attorneys revealed during a bail hearing in an Orange County, New York, courtroom why this petite 35-year-old – who walked into court in an orange jumpsuit, hands cuffed in front of her body – has been charged with his murder.
Assistant District Attorney Julie Mohl of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office told the court Graswald admitted “she tampered with the victim’s kayak and that taking these actions would contribute to his death.”
“She stated she saw him go under water and did nothing to help him, that she felt a sense of happiness and release, that it felt good he was going to die, that she wanted him dead, that she felt trapped with no way out,” Mohl also said.
The motive? Mohl told the court Graswald is named as a primary beneficiary on two life insurance policies totaling $250,000.
“She spoke to people about what she would do with the money,” Mohl said.
Robert Portale, Graswald’s attorney, asked that Graswald be released on her own recognizance from Orange County Jail, where she’s been held without bail since April 30. Judge Robert H. Freehill set her bail at $9 million, or $3 million cash.
After court, Portale told PEOPLE he looks forward to seeing the statements Graswald allegedly gave law enforcement officials, and will investigate if Graswald’s statements were voluntary or coerced.
“I find it hard to believe that she affirmatively stated, that she confessed, to tampering with the kayak and that she confessed to watching him drown,” Portale said.
“I find it hard to believe that the troopers would hold a press conference and not reveal that,” he continued. “That they would say there were inconsistencies in her story. That’s a confession. We heard today a downright confession, but that’s not what we’ve been told all along. How did that morph from inconsistencies to a confession?”
In a jailhouse interview with PEOPLE, when asked if she had a financial motive or was a beneficiary of Viafore’s life insurance policy, Graswald said no, that she did not have a financial motive.
Portale tells PEOPLE exclusively: “If in fact she was a beneficiary under any life insurance policies, that fact is not relevant or necessarily admissible as evidence against her, without proof that she knew? that she stood to benefit. Without that proof that she stood to benefit, there’s no motive. It’s not motivation if you didn’t know about it.”
Mohl explained in court that on April 19, Graswald and Viafore, 46, kayaked from Plum Point, New York, to Bannerman’s Island – in the Hudson River not far from West Point – at about 4:15 p.m. Two-thirds of the way back to the mainland, “the victim’s kayak filled with water, causing it to capsize.”
According to Mohl’s statements, Viafore was holding onto the kayak and a flotation device at around 7:15 p.m. but Graswald didn’t call 911 until 7:40 p.m. and at that time told the operator she could see Viafore. Graswald told investigators that her kayak capsized during the call, Mohl said, but “others say she intentionally capsized her kayak.”
Graswald was rescued two minutes after her 911 call, Mohl said, but she could not tell rescuers “where he capsized or the last place where she saw him floating.”
The next step, Portale said, is that prosecutors must file an indictment. In the meantime, he’s unsure whether she can make bail.
“I’m not sure at this point,” her lawyer said. “She’s depressed, she’s hurting. She’s confident that when this is over the truth will come out.”
Sean Von Clauss, a professional musician who has known Viafore since boyhood, and who knew the couple, expressed shock at the details released in the hearing.
“Don’t want to believe she murdered my friend,” he told PEOPLE in a Facebook message. “But what I was told from the hearing today..is devastating.”
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