There is a tragic case out of New York that has the makings of a controversial murder prosecution. The defendant in the case is Angelika Graswald, who is accused of killing her fiance, Vincent Viafore, on a kayaking trip on the Hudson river. The police believe that Graswald, who has posted regularly pictures of the couple and comments since Viafore’s disappearance, killed Viafore in a faked boating accident. Viafore’s body has never been found. In addition to the absence of a body, there is no direct evidence of murder revealed publicly. Police are citing inconsistencies in Graswald’s account as well as critical diary entries.
Graswald, a Latvian national of Russian descent, was was working as a bartender when she met Viafore a couple years earlier. She was divorced from her first husband in 2009 and, according to news reports, Viafore (a successful project manager) had been supporting her. Viafore was 11 years older.
Graswald, 35, said that the two were kayaking in the river off Cornwall-On-Hudson, near West Point, when Viafore ran into trouble and fell into the river. Even though both are experienced water enthusiasts, he wasn’t wearing a life vest. She said that she tried to help him but that she then fell in the river and was separated from him. She was rescued later and called 911.
It is also odd that an experienced kayaker would not only fail to have on a vest but prove unable to either recover from a flip or hold on to the kayak. Graswald said “I saw him struggling a little bit. He was trying to figure out how to paddle the waves. And then I just saw him flip, right in front of me.” This concern makes the recovery of the body all the more important to determine the cause of death and whether, if found in the water, there was water in the lungs (indicating that he was alive when he went into the water).
Police say that Graswald met inconsistent statements and “implicated herself in the crime.” They arrested her after taking her to the island for one last account of the events of that day, but it is not clear what implicated her in second-degree murder.
What is interesting is the importance of diary entries by Graswald. She had written in her journal that Viafore liked rough sex and was pressuring her into having threesomes. She allegedly added that these incidents had made her wish him dead. She insisted that these entries were dated and written in a passing period in the relationship. It is indeed odd that a woman who allegedly planned a murder would leave such incriminating statements in a journal, though such mistakes have been made in past cases. There is also the curious disconnect with the image of a gold-digger who did not wait to marry the victim before doing him in — leaving her with no assets from the estate. Accordingly, this would have to be a murder out of anger, which may reflect the second-degree rather than a premeditated first-degree claim (though that can change).
As has become common in murder cases, we have the accused posting pictures and comments on the case — a nightmare for defense attorneys. In this case, Graswald has posted romantic pictures while, soon after the disappearance, asking rescuers not to take any unnecessary risks: “Miracles ARE possible. The authorities are doing everything they can . . .” and “We do not need anyone else getting hurt, as it is very dangerous out there, especially without daylight. Please, no questions at this point, we’re doing everything we can. We will find him.”
One witness who has been identified has said that he saw both Viafore and Graswald on the island with his telescope from his home on the water.
Without the body or other direct form of evidence, this could come down to circumstantial evidence and a question of credibility. Often defense counsel avoids putting a defendant on the stand to minimize risk, but the diary entries add considerable pressure for the jury to hear from the accused. There is always a concern that an accent or limited English can undermine the witness in such a case. There is also the grueling cross examination that comes with any inconsistent statements made to police.