Saturday, September 19, 2009

Diver charged in death of wife off of Great Barrier Reef has sentenced increased to 1 1/2 years in prison - Alabama seeks to try him

(Original Post 6-23-08)
Gabe Watson, 31, will be placed on trial for the drowning death of his wife of 11 days, Christina "Tina" Watson, 26 when she drowned off the shipwreck Yongala, located in the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast back in October 2003. The beginning of the trip took place 2 days after their wedding.

Gabe said that hid bride appeared to panic, and afterwards, he "looked into her eyes and saw her eyes were wide open, but there was no response."

However [Townsville Coroner David]Glascow, however, cited what he said were inconsistencies in Watson's statements to investigators. The coroner said he was "unable to conclude that Tina's death was an accidental drowning."

As possible evidence for the husband's motive, Glascow pointed to a statement by the woman's father that Watson asked her to maximize her life insurance and make him the beneficiary shortly before the wedding.

The insurance company confirmed that Gabe Watson inquired about her life insurance policy after her death, the coroner said.The coroner noted that Watson, through his lawyers, contended that police had made a judgment that he killed his wife before they began their investigation and that they tailored their investigation to fit their theory.

Glascow said he saw no evidence of police rushing to judgment.
"It appears certain that at some point in time, investigators considered some of Gabe's explanations lacked credibility, and it further appears to me that investigators gave Gabe the opportunity to clarify matters which may have caused concern," the coroner said.

(Update 9-19-09) After a plea deal on June 10, Gabe Watson was sentenced to 7 years in prison with 1 year to serve for his wife's manslaughter. The manslaughter charge is a step below the murder charge that Australian officials were originally seeking. Watson admitted that he swam away from his dying wife instead of trying to rescue her while scuba diving, and that removing weights and activating buoyancy vests could have helped save the woman.

This outraged Australians and the family members of the victim, as Watson's 1 year to serve was lower than any Australian sentenced for the same crime. Queensland Attorney-General Cameron Dick had appealed the sentence to the Queensland Court Of Appeal, arguing that the time served before parole should be 2 1/2 years.

In a 2 to 1 split decision yesterday, Australian time, Chief Justice Paul de Jersey favored doubling the year sentence Watson was originally sentenced to, but decided to extend the sentence by 6 months because a second justice would only agree to extend it by that much, and a third justice voted against the appeal.

"The respondent pleaded guilty not just to causing his wife's death negligently, but criminally negligently," Chief Justice de Jersey found. "And that warrants this court at least doubling the penalty effectively visited upon him by the sentencing court."

Judge John Muir disagreed. "Minds may well differ as to whether the suspension of the 4 1/2 year sentence after 12 months was overly generous. However, the sentence imposed, in my respectful opinion, was not so substantially different from any sentence which ought to have been imposed."

The victim's father, Tommy Thomas, from his Alabama home, stated "They let him escape justice and he's still escaping justice."

"It's not anywhere near the justice that Tina deserves, and I think everybody is fully aware of that."

Echoing that, Alabama Attorney General Troy King has convened a team of prosecutors hoping to retry Watson on capital murder charges there.

Mr King had been considering hitting Watson with a murder conspiracy charge, but yesterday declared he would go for the more serious offence.

During a meeting yesterday, he ordered a team of prosecutors and investigators to compile a brief of evidence that will be presented to a grand jury for a capital murder indictment. The presentation could happen within months. If the 16-person panel agrees there is enough evidence to support a conviction in Alabama, he will be tried for murder. If convicted, a judge would decide whether to give him life in jail or condemn him to death.

Mr King said he hoped to give the family "what they could not get in Australia - justice".

The victim's sister, Alanda Thomas, supports the Alabama push for a new trial and murder conviction. "My sister, Tina, had her entire life taken from her by his actions and all he gets is 18 months in jail. That is just a disgrace. Hopefully my sister will get her day in court and Gabe will finally stand trial for all he has done."

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