Friday, June 5, 2009

Diver convicted of manslaughter in death of wife

Honeymoon killer sent to jail
Christine Flatley [Brisbane (Australia) Times]

June 5, 2009 - 5:29PM

The family of an American woman who died while scuba diving on her honeymoon still believe she was murdered, even after prosecutors accepted her killer's plea of manslaughter.

David Gabriel Watson, 32, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years' jail on Friday after pleading guilty in the Supreme Court in Brisbane to killing his new wife, Christina (Tina) while scuba diving in north Queensland in October 2003. He had been charged with murder, to which he pleaded not guilty, but Crown prosecutors accepted the plea to the lesser charge.

Prosecutor Brendan Campbell told the court the manslaughter plea was accepted on the basis that Watson had failed in his duty as Tina's dive buddy by not giving her emergency oxygen.

Outside court after their daughter's killer was jailed, Tina's father Tommy Thomas expressed the family's disbelief at the manslaughter sentence.

"I'm sure that the entire Australian nation as well as our country back home shares in the shock at what we've just seen, because it's a total injustice ... it's ludicrous," he said.

Today he (Watson) was allowed to take the easy way out. This is in no way, shape or form a beginning to get justice for our daughter. It's an embarrassment to everyone involved. We believe that Gabe Watson murdered our daughter."

Mr Thomas, Tina's sister Alanda and friend Amanda Phillips flew from Alabama to Australia this week to be in court for Watson's sentencing.Watson's new wife, Kim Lewis, was also in court.

During the hearing the court was told Watson allowed Tina to sink to the ocean floor without making any serious attempt to retrieve her, and that he did not inflate her buoyancy vest or remove weights from her belt.

"He virtually extinguished any chance of her survival," Mr Campbell said.

Watson married Tina in a ceremony described by her friends as her dream wedding in Birmingham, Alabama, on October 11, 2003. Eleven days later, a dive instructor found her lying on the bottom of the ocean during a week-long Great Barrier Reef scuba-diving trip off the coast of Townsville.

A coronial inquest into her death heard a fellow diver saw Gabe Watson engaged in an underwater "bearhug" with his petite wife, after which the bubble-wrap salesman headed for the surface while his wife fell to the ocean floor.

Coroner David Glasgow formally charged Watson with murder in June 2008 and the American voluntarily returned to Australia in mid-May 2009. The Supreme Court was told on Friday that Watson was an experienced diver who had been trained in rescuing panicked divers.

Watson told police Tina had knocked his mask off and then had sunk too quickly for him to retrieve her. But the Crown rejected this explanation, saying it would not have been possible for her to sink rapidly.

Mr Thomas on Friday said the family would consider lodging an appeal. Watson will serve 12 months behind bars before he is released on a suspended sentence.

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