David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson faces a murder charge
His then-wife, Tina, died in 2003 while the two were diving near the Great Barrier Reef
Prosecutors tell jurors he had a financial motive: a $210,000 insurance policy
Defense disagrees, saying he "never stood to gain anything"
Did Tina Watson drown while diving during her 2003 honeymoon because of a “perfect storm” of unfortunate circumstances, or did her husband kill her for the insurance money?
Those were the scenarios painted by attorneys Tuesday in Birmingham, Alabama, in opening arguments at the murder trial of David Gabriel “Gabe” Watson.
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, 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. A grand jury in Alabama subsequently indicted him.
Prosecutor Andrew Arrington told jurors that Watson several times changed his story of what happened.
Watson told Australian authorities Tina panicked about 30-45 feet underwater and knocked his mask off, Arrington said. She then slipped downward toward the wreck, prosecutors said.
Another diver will testify he saw a male diver approach a female diver floating face up under the water and appearing lifeless, Arrington said. The male diver embraced her for about 30 seconds – face to face – and they separated. “Tina sinks to the bottom and the diver goes to the top,” he said. Watson never told police he was in this area of the dive, the attorney said.
Watson had been trained to rescue a fellow diver but did not try to do so and left his dive partner, said Arrington. He said Watson was not at his wife’s side as others tried to resuscitate her.
Evidence will show Watson expected to gain about $210,000 in insurance and death benefits, prosecutors allege.
“This whole case … is about murder and gain,” Arrington said.
But defense attorney Brett Bloomston said Tina’s father was the beneficiary on her workplace insurance policy. Watson filed for some expenses from a travel policy, but it was denied on a technicality, Bloomston said. His client did sue an insurance company when it denied him an accidental death benefit, the attorney said.
“Gabe never stood to gain anything from Tina’s death; he lost,” said Bloomston. “You will not hear any evidence that Gabe Watson did anything intentional to cause Tina’s death.”
The defense argued that Tina Watson was wearing too much weight with her suit, and that a strong current, her relative diving inexperience and a pattern of anxiety during dives were contributing factors.
It also argued those behind the dive failed to ensure the couple had proper orientation for what it said was a difficult dive.
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.
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.”