Whether or not Angelika Graswald murdered her fiance by sabotaging his kayak before a long paddle in the Hudson River, coroners are supposed to confine their autopsies to what physically killed someone, not speculate about the circumstances leading up to death. That, according to experts quizzed by the New York Times, seems to be what the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office has done in the autopsy of said fiance, Vincent Viafore, writing that his drowning death was a "homicide" due to a "kayak drain plug intentionally removed by other."
To recap, Graswald is accused of tampering with Viafore's kayak and, during the couple's kayak trip on April 10th, watching him drown and capsizing her own kayak to make his disappearance look like an accident. Police found his body in the river more than a month later.
Graswald allegedly confessed to sabotaging Viafore's boat and told prosecutors "it felt good knowing he was going to die." Her lawyer has raised the possibility that the confession was coerced and, given that English isn't Graswald's first language (she's from Latvia), she may not have known what she was saying. She was set to be the beneficiary of a $250,000 life insurance policy taken out by Viafore. She is being charged with second-degree murder and held on $3-million bail.
Obviously, Graswald's lawyer Richard Portale questions the autopsy's findings, saying, "Clearly, the Orange County medical examiner failed to conduct any meaningful investigation of her own and relied on false information provided by the New York State Police." But there's also Westchester County district attorney-turned Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro, who told the Times, "That is a very unusual way of describing manner of death. It's rare that you get something next to the manner of death that is so outside the analysis of the body."
Portale has argued that the drain plug was missing long before the fateful trip, and experts have said that its absence wouldn't necessarily sink the boat.
The Orange County Medical Examiner's Office declined to comment, as did the Health Department, both deferring to the County Executive's Office. County spokesman Justin Rodriguez said the county does not release autopsy results, even in summary form, as New York City's medical examiner does, because of advice from county lawyers. He maintained that there is nothing unusual about the autopsy obtained by the Times.
"Medical examiners in Orange County have based their manner of death findings on evidence extrinsic of the body for years," he said in a statement. "It has been accepted by this county and the state."
Talking to the Times, forensics expert Lawrence Kobilinsky called the reference to the plug in the autopsy a "red herring," saying it suggests intentional murder in a way it's not the role of medical examiners to do:
"That’s not something the medical examiner should be writing down...The way it was written sounds like the medical examiner was saying it’s clearly a murder based on pulling the plug."