Australia honeymoon murder suspect returned to Alabama
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A man accused of killing his new bride on a honeymoon scuba dive in Australia was returned to Alabama late Monday to face murder charges in his home state.
Gabe Watson was escorted by Alabama law enforcement officers as he arrived at the Birmingham airport for transfer to the Jefferson County Jail. Officers took him off the plane and out a side door without going past media waiting for him.
Watson, 33, has been indicted in Jefferson County on capital murder charges for the death of his wife, Tina, during a dive off the Great Barrier Reef in 2003, just 11 days after their wedding.
Watson was originally charged with murder in Australia, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 18 months in an Australian prison. Alabama Attorney General Troy King, viewing that sentence as too lenient, sought the capital murder indictment, contending Watson plotted while still in Alabama to kill his wife for the proceeds from a life insurance policy.
Capital murder carries a potential death sentence if convicted, but officials in Australia are strongly against capital punishment and would not allow Watson to be extradited until King promised not to seek it.
Watson’s attorney, Brett Bloomston, has said he will ask for a bond hearing for Watson. Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska has said he would vigorously oppose bond, partly because the charge is still capital murder.
Dubbed the “Honeymoon Killer” by Australian media, Watson arrived in Birmingham on a flight from Atlanta after his trip originated in Los Angeles, where he has been held since being extradited from Australia last month.
Gabe and Tina Watson were married on Oct. 11, 2003, and were on what appeared to be a dream honeymoon to Australia when the 26-year-old bride drowned while they were scuba diving over a century-old shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef.
At a coroner’s inquest in Australia, Watson said in a videotaped police interview that his wife began having trouble a few minutes into the dive, panicked, grabbed at his mask and pulled it off. By the time he got the mask back on, he said she was sinking, and he went up for help.
One of the dive leaders pulled Tina Watson to the surface, but she never regained consciousness. According to authorities, tests found nothing wrong with her diving gear, and an autopsy found no pre-existing medical condition. At the inquest, a fellow diver said he saw Watson engage in an underwater “bear hug” with his wife.
Watson’s attorneys have said he was not an experienced rescue diver, as portrayed by prosecutors.