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Trial date set for Alabama man accused of killing wife on honeymoon

By the CNN Wire Staff
Gabe Watson appears in court Monday in Birmingham, Alabama.
Gabe Watson appears in court Monday in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson faces murder and kidnapping charges
  • His then-wife, Tina, died in 2003 while the two were diving near the Great Barrier Reef
  • Watson's attorneys have said Alabama authorities "manipulated a grand jury"

(CNN) -- A trial date has been set for May for an Alabama man accused of killing his new bride during their honeymoon in Australia.

David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson is scheduled to face murder and kidnapping charges on May 23 in an Alabama courtroom, court officials said.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Australian media dubbed Watson "The Honeymoon Killer" after his 26-year-old wife, Tina, died October 22, 2003, while the two were diving at a historic shipwreck off the Great Barrier Reef.

The incident occurred about 9,000 miles from Birmingham, Alabama, where the couple had married 11 days earlier.

Watson returned to the United States after his wife's death and, five years later, remarried. In that same year, 2008, he pleaded guilty in Australia to criminally negligent manslaughter. He finished his sentence there in early November and was subsequently held in immigration detention.

Then, in late November, Watson was arrested in Los Angeles after a grand jury in Alabama indicted Watson on two counts -- murder for pecuniary gain and kidnapping where a felony occurred, authorities said. Those charges are based on the premise that Watson hatched the plot to kill his wife while in Alabama.

Watson's lawyers have contended that authorities in Alabama manipulated a grand jury to get an indictment against their client.

The lawyers have claimed that authorities based the indictment on testimony from Tina Watson's immediate family and a sole Helena, Alabama, investigator, saying of the witnesses "none could offer more than emotional testimony and hearsay."

The doctrine of double jeopardy -- which says that a person cannot be tried or punished twice for the same crime -- does not apply in Watson's case, according to established legal precedent, legal experts have said.

Double jeopardy does not apply because two separate sovereigns, a state government and a foreign government, were seeking to prosecute, said John Lentine, a Birmingham criminal defense attorney and law school professor.

Australian authorities investigated Tina Watson's death for years, according to inquest findings in June 2008. Townsville, Queensland, Coroner David Glascow pressed for charges after determining that the drowning couldn't be deemed accidental.

According to the inquest, Watson told Glascow that his new bride appeared to panic while 45 feet underwater in the reef, 42 miles off the coast of Townsville.

But Glascow cited inconsistencies in Watson's statements, saying that investigators found that "some of Gabe's explanations lacked credibility."

Glascow noted that Tina Watson's father, in a sworn statement, said Watson asked her to maximize her life insurance and make him a beneficiary shortly before their wedding. The insurance company confirmed Watson asked about his wife's insurance policy after her death, according to the coroner.

Watson's attorneys have said that their client pleaded guilty in Australia only "for failing to rescue his wife (because) he merely did not do enough to save her."