Coroner Rules That Kayak Death On Hudson Was Homicide

kayakpicWe have been following the case of Angelika Graswald who is accused of murdering her fiancé Vincent Viafore by sabotaging his kayak on a river outing on the Hudson. Indeed, we previously heard that she had confessed and said “it felt good” to see Viafore die. Now there is a report that Graswald confessed , saying “All right, I’ll give you a f–king statement . . . I wanted him dead and now he’s gone . . . And I’m OK with it.” It is a bad defense case getting worse but I am still surprised by the report of the New York medical examiner that she determined the death to be homicide from an examination of the body.

The examiner said that death was caused by a homicide by the “kayak drain plug [being] intentionally removed by other.” How does one exactly tell that as a coroner? What is the medical evidence of a plug being pulled from a kayak. The report only noted a 2-inch abrasion on Viafore’s torso and bruising to his chest and arms — injuries that are easily explained by drowning in the Hudson.

Clearly examiners look at things beyond the body, but this seems quite speculative and prejudicial as evidence that would go to a jury. I am more comfortable with more descriptive analysis like the cause of death was “drowning.”

What do you think?

20 thoughts on “Coroner Rules That Kayak Death On Hudson Was Homicide”

  1. Chilling case.

    Regardless of the suspect’s confession, or whether she killed him, I agree with Professor Turley that the ME should have simply listed cause of death as “drowning.”

    You should always wear a life jacket boating, but especially in a kayak. Even without foul play, accidents can happen, and you can’t swim in water that cold. I’ve been in icy water before, and you can’t get your limbs to work. It’s like they just won’t move.

  2. If someone pulled the plug from my kayak, I would not drown. Perhaps there was more to it. She may have held him under, and the bruising on chest and arms indicated that.

    1. ” She may have held him under, and the bruising on chest and arms indicated that.”

      It is not clear how easily he could have climbed back into the kayak once he was in the water.

      In 46degree water without a flotation device all she had to do was deny aid for a few minutes.

  3. It’s New York.. The ME’s have a history of making determinations along whatever the police tell them they think happened.

  4. 48 Hours covered this story over the weekend. The plug was positioned on the top of the kayak, and Angelika admitted to removing the plug on his kayak sometime prior to the incident. Part of the defense, as shown during the episode, will be that the small hole, located on the top of the kayak, would not have allowed an adequate amount of water to accumulate, and, therefore, was not the cause of the kayak submerging. Angelika is also alleged to have tampered with his oar by removing an object securing the two parts together.

  5. I have dealt w/ good and bad coroners. It is not a glamorous job, although TV makes it look so. It does not attract the cream of the crop, but mostly the whey.

  6. Even if the drain plug were removed intentionally, there remains the question of the practical effect.

    How fast could the kayak fill from the 1 inch opening? What about buoyancy compartments? Some small craft have sealed compartments that prevent them from sinking even when swamped.

    Without additional information, it is not clear that the open plug had anything to do with putting him in the water.

    What about Viafore’s normal procedure? Many sports people are very systematic with their equipment. Did he usually remove the plug at the conclusion of a water outing? If so, it is not hard to imagine that the inebriated couple simple failed to replace the plug prior to their outing. Why should we believe that someone who fails to take the precaution of putting on a life jacket would take care to check or replace a plug?

    It seems to me the only evidence we have at this point is her ambivalent attitude and statements made during questioning.

  7. “We all watch CSI and assume that science is objective.”

    No we don’t. But Science is the best tool mankind has come up with to learn the truth.

    “even more liars in scientific jobs” And you know this how?

    “just look at the global warming fanatics”. Why look at them? Go read the literature. You would be a fanatic too if you would let go of your petrified opinion and studied the science of climate change.

  8. It sounds like the Coroner is making a lot of suppositions based on the evidence. His/her job is to present the evidence about the cause of death….which is drowning. Placing blame on a person is not his responsibility.

    Evidence. The drain plug was missing or had been removed.
    Supposition. The ‘other’ person did it.

    The drain plug may have been faulty. Perhaps the person in the kayak accidentally kicked it out or removed it. (Disclaimer. I know nada about these types of kayaks) Either way, there is no proof in his evidence, unless they have her fingerprints on the drain plug or found it in her pockets. A court case will determine this aspect of the incident.

    It is like the Coroner is using the Underpants Gnome theory.

    Step one: Drain plug missing
    Step two: ?????
    Step three: Guilty!!!!!

  9. It’s very likely this finding of “homicide” will be the key evidence presented at trial. The prosecutor will present this as a fact rather than a highly dubious inference, which means the entire case consists of an appeal to authority. I hope she gets a couple of smart people on her jury.

  10. The drain plug was on the top of the kayak. If the Hudson had waves washing over the 1″ drain hole it was likely filling the opening he was sitting in.

  11. The defense counsel needs to depose the so called medical examiner and really question credentials. Then really cross examine each inch of what the medical examiner examined. The motion prior to trial is to limit the testimony to that which the so called expert is qualified to give expert testimony on and deny the introduction of speculation by a misguided and biased person.

    At trial, cross examine the so called expert to the inth degree. Bring in the plug from the bottom of the kayak and a similar kayak. Demonstrate yourself to the jury how a plug can come out all on its own from water pressure from underneath the kayak. The medical examiner needs a plug up his/her rear end. Tell that to the jury.

  12. Who cares if the coroner actually knew it was homicide….the police wanted this case tried. One could almost say the police wanted her dead! The coroner gave the police and prosecutor what they wanted. Unfortunately, that is the state of our justice system.

  13. “Gentlemen, you are about to enter the most important and fascinating sphere of police work: the world of forensic medicine, where untold victims of many homicides will reach back from the grave and point back a finger accusingly at their assailant. ”

    Quincy, we hardly knew ye.

  14. Have you considered that if the M.E. had not made his decision the matter might have been closed? This is not TV where some dogged police force seizes upon a death even though there is no medical evidence of anything other than an accident.

    Also, people who want proactive courts and judges should not be surprised when medical examiners and coroners also become proactive. Maybe in this case that is a good thing!

  15. No life-jacket and 46 degree water means his survival time was about 10 minutes (depending on what type of safety gear he was wearing) according to Professor Popsicle that runs Cold Water Boot Camp.

    His hands and arms would have been good to help himself for maybe 2 or 3 minutes. Depending on the type of Kayak he could have gotten bruised when the Kayak flipped if the kayak was one where he sat inside it and not some sort of sit on top kayak

    No life-jacket is not a safe practice at all, some would even call it stupid, and 46 degree water means they both should have had significant protective gear on.

  16. We all watch CSI and assume that science is objective.

    Truth is that there is a lot of pseudo science sold to a gullible public and there are even more liars in scientific jobs – just look at the global warming fanatics.

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