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Friday, April 29, 2011

Gabe Watson to stand trial in Alabama

I wrote about Gabe Watson on 11th November 2010 when he was put on a plane back to the US to face murder charges. He has already served an 18 month jail sentence in Queensland for the manslaughter of his wife Tina while scuba diving near Townsville in 2003.

I remember the case well because of Tina's dad Tommy Thomas - a loving father who never gave up. He has no doubt that his son-in-law murdered his daughter. He couldn't figure out why the flowers he took to his daughter's grave kept disappearing so he set up a video camera and caught Gabe Watson on film taking them - why, no one knows. But thanks to his relentless campaign, Watson now faces two capital murder charges.

There was a lot of talk about the light sentence Watson received in Australia and about the sloppy handling of the case. He originally received a custodial sentence of 12 months, which was increased to 18 months on appeal from Queensland prosecutors.

The new charges against Watson allege the plan to murder his wife was pre-meditated and conceived in Alabama even before he left on his honeymoon. If found guilty, the death penalty applies in Alabama. This put the Australian government in a difficult position, they refused to allow his deportation back to the US unless Alabama's Attorney General gave his word that any future conviction would not involve the death penalty, but rather a maximum sentence of a life in prison. This was agreed and Watson was put on a plane back to the US.

Alabama Judge Nail has had a change of heart. Last December he granted Watson bail on the grounds that he was not a flight risk and thought the Prosecution's case was weak, but yesterday he accepted that a trial should proceed. Watson's lawyers put a motion that the prosecution case amounted to a violation of the double jeopardy principle but Judge Nail dismissed it and cited three precedents in which people convicted of murder outside the US had again faced prosecution over the same crime in the US later.

Tina Watson, so much in love with her husband, died in the first few minutes of the first full dive of their scuba trip to the Great Barrier Reef. And before they left home, Gabe Watson asked his wife to increase her work-related life insurance and made him the beneficiary.