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March 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Manslaughter in Australia, An Acquittal in Alabama

from the March, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We've written many articles about Gabe Watson, a diver from Alabama charged with the murder of his wife, Tina, while diving in Australia. A month-long inquest concluded that while diving from one of Mike Ball's boats on the Great Barrier Reef in 2003, Watson turned off Tina's air and left her to drown. After pleading guilty to manslaughter due to negligence, Watson, now 34 and remarried, served 18 months in an Australian prison before being brought back to Alabama for a new trial, possibly facing a life sentence without parole. The ending was quite different there. The judge acquitted Watson of murder, ending the trial before the defense had even presented its case, saying prosecutors lacked evidence to prove Watson intentionally killed his wife.

Circuit Judge Tommy Nail agreed with defense arguments that prosecutors failed to show Watson drowned Tina for insurance money. Another diver who was the one eyewitness present before Watson swam to the surface told the jury he did not see Watson switch off Tina's air supply, and that he thought Watson was trying to save her. Mail said the state's evidence was "sorely lacking" and did not prove Watson had any financial motive. Jurors never got to deliberate. "I don't think anyone knows for sure what happened in the water down there," said Nail, who repeatedly clashed with prosecutors during the trial and earlier hearings.

He hobbled the prosecution by refusing to allow the jury to see video of an underwater re-enactment Queensland police did at the shipwreck, and surveillance footage of Watson using bolt-cutters to remove flowers from Tina's grave. Defense attorneys said Tina's death was an accident, and that Watson didn't stand to gain monetarily because Tina's father, Tommy Thomas, was the beneficiary of her life insurance policy. Nail blocked Thomas from testifying about Watson's alleged desire to increase Tina's insurance policy, saying it was hearsay. That was a blow for prosecutors, who earlier had been barred from presenting other evidence about Watson's actions after the death. "It was pretty evident by then he was going to bounce it," said lead prosecutor Sam Vaselka. Prosecutors aren't allowed to try Watson again.

Most of the discussion in the dive community always assumed Watson's guilt. We carried a piece last August by Dr. Carl Edmonds, who wrote a strong piece stating that Watson was innocent. It's interesting to reread now that Watson is off the hook ( www.undercurrent.org/UCnow/dive_magazine/2011 ).

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