This is a story unlike any other that I’ve come across. If you type in the search phrase “wrongful convictions” in the search box on this site, you will see the numerous cases of wrongful convictions that I have covered. Some of the wrongfully convicted are freed. Some are still in prison (see the story on Darlie Routier). In the case of Angelika Graswald, here is a wrongful conviction that hasn’t happened yet. The fact that this woman is even in jail facing murder charges is a miscarriage of justice.
I’m sure you’ve heard about this case. A woman and her boyfriend go kayaking on the Hudson River. The boyfriend’s kayak capsizes and he ends up drowning. The boyfriend, Vincent Viafore, isn’t found immediately. Angelika is questioned by police about the incident. She apparently made a comment about having removed the drain plug from her boyfriend’s Kayak. That statement, along with what some viewed as bizarre behavior after her boyfriend’s death, and a $250,000 life insurance policy, made Angelika a suspect in her boyfriend’s death. What is first reported by the media as an accident is soon turned into a murder plot. She confessed to staging the whole thing, according to police. The media jumps on the murder bandwagon and the story takes off.
That’s the story I heard and believed. That is until I watched the excellent 48 Hours episode Death On The Hudson. The 48 Hours episode starts with the police theory and the edited video confession of Angelika. If you didn’t go any further than the details I have already provided, you would think this is a slam dunk case. However, once all of the facts are laid out, anyone with any common sense can see that this was a tragic accident and nothing more.
First, let’s start with the damning admission that Angelika removed the drain plug on the Kayak. When the police detective heard that piece of incriminating evidence it was all over for Angelika. But here is the problem, and it’s a very big problem. The drain plug is on the top of the kayak, not the bottom as assumed by the detective and anyone else not familiar with this kayak. The drain is about the size of your pinky. You could splash water over that drain plug all day long and the kayak still wouldn’t fill up with enough water to capsize it. Angelika admitted to removing the drain plug weeks earlier, not on the day of the incident. She had removed it as a safety precaution for her cat who was playing in the kayak.
Next the police say she removed a ring on her boyfriend’s paddle that allowed it to not work properly, then she apparently took it from him so he couldn’t use it as a floatation device. Are you kidding me? Maybe the police should go out and test their theory, like 48 Hours did, before making ridiculous claims.
Angelika didn’t want to go kayaking that day. It was her boyfriend’s idea. So there is no premeditation. Angelika called 911 as soon as it happened. If she was going to kill her boyfriend, would she do that? Why not wait until you got back to shore?
What about her confession? She confessed, didn’t she? First, if you have any doubts that someone can make a false confession. please watch the documentary confessions here on this site. Angelika was interviewed, without a lawyer, for eleven hours. Her big concern, as she told police, was to get done with the interview so she could take care of her cat. She told the police what they wanted her to say so she could go home.
The river was choppy that day. The water temperature was 46 degrees. As water poured into the kayak from the waves, the boat capsized. Without a life vest, Vincent was in trouble fast. Hypothermia would have made swimming difficult. The choppy water made it harder for Angelika to assist her boyfriend. She called 911.
Now in order for the prosecutor to have a case the medical examiner has to declare Vincent’s death as a homicide. So what does the medical examiner do when Vincent’s body is discovered a month after the incident? He declares that Vincent died from drowning. He also called it a homicide because someone other than Vincent had removed the drain plug. The drain plug had nothing to do with the boat capsizing. The medical examiner needs to lose his job.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how wrongful convictions occur. It starts with one or more detectives who have a hunch. As soon as they have something that seems to corroborate that hunch, they develop tunnel vision and try to fit the evidence to their theory. If the prosecutor is lazy, incompetent, or both, there is a trial. A not guilty verdict is not a guarantee. In fact, the odds will be against her once the trial starts, no matter how good her defense team is. Jurors want to believe that the police know what they’re doing. Why else would they be charging this woman with murder?
I sure hope someone in the prosecution office is paying attention. You don’t have a murder. You have a tragic accident. Drop the charges. It’s the right thing to do.
So now it looks like the prosecutor realized that he had no case. So what does he do? Let Angelika go? No. If he did that he would have to explain why it is that he let an innocent person sit in jail for two years when there was no case. So he came up with a better idea. How about we threaten her with a lengthy prison term. Then we’ll tell her that if she agrees to a plea deal, where she admits that she tried to kill her boyfriend, that she can be out of jail in as little as a year or two thanks to time served. If Angelika would have had a decent defense attorney, she would have gone to trial and won because they had no case against her. Orange County Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Borek should be ashamed of himself. He should have done the right thing and admit that they had no case. Defense attorney Richard Portale should find a new line of work. You don’t plea an innocent person.