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Man suspected in wife's death on Australian honeymoon back in Alabama

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Suspected 'Honeymoon Killer' in jail
  • 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
  • Australian coroner: Tina Watson's drowning couldn't be deemed accidental
  • Gabe Watson's attorneys have said Alabama authorities "manipulated a grand jury"

(CNN) -- A man accused of killing his new bride on a honeymoon scuba dive in Australia has been returned to Alabama, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said.

David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson was being held at the county jail Tuesday morning, Sgt. Gregory Fitts said.

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

The incident occurred about 9,000 miles (14,500 km) 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, California, after a grand jury in Alabama indicted Watson on two counts -- murder for pecuniary gain and kidnapping where a felony occurred -- according to Donald Valeska, an assistant attorney general for Alabama. Those charges are based on the premise that Watson hatched the plot to kill his wife while in Alabama.

It was not clear under exactly what circumstances Watson traveled from Australia to the United States.

The Jefferson County Court clerk's office said Watson had not been assigned to a judge, and there was no scheduled court appearance as of about noon Tuesday.

Watson's return to the United States had been held up by authorities in Australia, which has a policy of not extraditing suspects to possibly face the death penalty.

The Australian government agreed to deport Watson after getting assurances from U.S. authorities that "the death penalty would not be sought, imposed or carried out," Sandi Logan, a spokesman for the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, said last month.

In a statement released in November, the Birmingham-based law firm representing Watson -- Bloomston and Basgier -- said that Alabama authorities "manipulated a grand jury." The lawyers claimed state 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 the Watson case, according to established legal precedent, said John Lentine, a Birmingham criminal defense attorney and law school professor.

"Double jeopardy doesn't apply when you have what's called two separate sovereigns," or "dual sovereignty," Lentine said. Those two sovereigns can be the federal government and state government, as in the case of Terry Nichols, charged along with Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, he said. Nichols was convicted of manslaughter in a federal trial, but then was convicted of 161 counts of first-degree murder in an Oklahoma trial.

Or, as in this case, the two sovereigns can be the state government and a foreign government, Lentine said. The dual sovereignty concept has been around for a long time, he said, and such prosecutions happen "all the time."

Australian authorities investigated Tina Watson's death for years, and 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."

CNN's Scott Thompson, Janet DiGiacomo, Ashley Hayes and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.