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Gabe Watson 'Had Murder On His Mind,' Prosecutor Says

Michael McLaughlin   |   February 22, 2012   12:01 PM ET

Prosecutors lost their bid to call a witness whose testimony they say showed newlywed Gabe Watson "had murder on his mind" while flying to Australia with his wife, Tina Thomas Watson, who then drowned on their honeymoon there.

As the Alabama attorney general's office suffered that setback in the capital murder case, Watson's defense team attacked an official from a scuba tour company for not giving an orientation to Tina, a novice diver, before going on the deadly dive in 2003.

The so-called "Honeymoon Scuba Death" trial resumed Wednesday with state prosecutors presenting their case against Watson, a 34-year-old bubble wrap salesman they accuse of scheming to drown Tina so he could collect on her life insurance policy. Defense attorneys have countered that she died accidentally near the Great Barrier Reef, because she was an inexperienced diver who panicked.

Tuesday's testimony of dive master Wade Singleton could strengthen the defense's argument. He testified that Tina didn't get a lesson on conditions near a shipwreck and that the guide company's staff didn't evaluate her abilities even though she was a beginner with 11 dives under her belt, the Associated Press reported.


Singleton also admitted that he didn't complete a mandatory company form stating that Tina wasn't skilled enough for the dive, WBRC reported. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, Singelton's employer, was ultimately fined about $6,500 for violating Australian regulations.

Meanwhile, Judge Tommy Nail blocked the jury from hearing testimony from Alanda Thomas, Tina's sister. Prosecutors questioned her about a conversation she said she had with Watson about his flight to Australia with Tina. Thomas recalled that Watson said he'd talked about funeral arrangements for his new wife while they made the long trip to take their honeymoon, according to the AP.

Prosecutor Tina Hammond said the conversation showed Watson "had murder on his mind," the Birmingham News reported.

But Nail prevented the jury from hearing the testimony, citing that the alleged conversation was hearsay.

For prosecutors to convict Watson, they have to prove there was a connection with his home state, such as plotting Tina's murder before they departed on their honeymoon. He's already served 18 months after pleading guilty to negligent manslaughter in Australia. If convicted in his United States trial, he faces life in prison.

Thomas was permitted to tell jurors that Watson told her he was ready to move on with his life at Tina's funeral -- just two weeks after she drowned.

"He told me that I needed to realize that he had his time in Australia to grieve and he was over the grieving process," Thomas testified, according to the AP.

Watson told Thomas he wanted to collect some of Tina's possessions before the viewing of her body. During her testimony from the witness stand, she looked at her former brother-in-law several times. She said she hasn't spoken to him since Tina's funeral.

Tina and Alanda's father, Tommy Thomas, was in court yesterday. He left when the jury was shown photos of Tina's dead body, ABC News reported.

Watson, who has remarried, averted his eyes from the pictures of his first wife.


Husband Swam 'Fairly Rapidly' To Surface In Honeymoon Scuba Death

Michael McLaughlin   |   February 21, 2012    3:19 PM ET

As the "Honeymoon Scuba Death" trial enters its seventh day, an Alabama judge is expected to rule if the jury will see a contested police reenactment of Tina Thomas Watson's drowning.

Australian police staged a mock drowning near a shipwreck off the Great Barrier Reef to test Gabe Watson's statements about where he was when his new bride sank to her death in 2003, the Courier Mail reported.

A Queensland police scuba diver who took part in the recreation said that every time he dropped a dummy from the spot where Watson said his wife slipped from his hold, it landed on or near the sunken ship at the dive site, according to the newspaper. But Tina's body was found about 50 feet away from the boat. However, Judge Tommy Nail hasn't ruled yet if the jury can hear that testimony, because he's unsure if the recreations took place under sufficiently similar conditions.

In other testimony on Monday, the 34-year-old defendant was battered by his wife's best friend, who described his odd behavior in the wake of the suspicious death, ABC News said.

The Alabama attorney general contends Watson turned off Tina's air supply and held her underwater on their honeymoon to cash in on a life insurance policy. Watson pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. The defense argues that the death was accidental and resulted from her panic in a strong current.


Amanda Phillips, Tina's maid of honor, said she saw Watson show photos at Tina Thomas Watson's funeral of her standing in front of signs that read "Caution: Drowning."

Watson allegedly committed another gaffe when he stood at Tina's casket with Phillips. According to Phillips, she said that Tina looked pretty to which Watson replied, "At least her breasts [look] perky,"reported TV station WBRC.

In a potentially ominous conversation, Watson spoke to Phillips about his wife's life insurance policy. Two weeks after she died, Watson supposedly told Phillips that he'd considered increasing Tina's coverage to $1 million, the Birmingham News reported.

"And it's a good thing we didn't do, that otherwise I'd be in an Australian jail right now on involuntary manslaughter charges," Watson said, according to Phillips' testimony.

Watson served 18 months in an Australian prison for manslaughter before getting deported to the United States. He faces life behind bars if convicted in his home state.

Depite Phillips' potentially damaging testimony, the defense scored some points on technical matters during their questioning of dive experts who took the stand.

Adam White, an executive with Oceanic, the company that made the dive computers used by Watson and his wife, testified about the data the devices captured. White said information from Watson's wristwatch-sized computer showed he swam to a depth of 54 feet and ascended to the surface in about two to three minutes without pausing, which he said was a "rapid ascent." Under cross-examination, he admitted Watson could have made the ascent in as little as one minute.

White's analysis could hurt Watson, by casting doubt on his statements that he stopped during his ascent to get other divers to rescue Tina. But it could also help his case by suggesting that Watson rushed to the surface to get help from guides.

Tina's dive computer showed that her body lay on the ocean floor for about 10 minuts. Divemaster Wade Singleton said he found her and pulled her to the surface when he saw her dive buddy was not around. The 89-foot ascent took him about 90 seconds, he said.

Singleton also recounted his conversation with Watson after she died. Watson told Singleton he'd tried to pull Tina to the surface but she flailed and dislodged his mask. When he repositioned his gear. he said that Tina was too far away for him to get her.

The defense attacked the testimony of another diving equipment expert, Michael Hollis, who initially said that Tina's buoyancy vest should have enabled her to float even if she was weighted with 32 additional pounds. But when the defense cross-examined him, Hollis said her vest was only strong enough to lift her if she had 19 pounds of weight in her suit. That could become a crucial number, because she actually carried 20 pounds, according to the Birmingham News.


Another Diver Contradicts Husband's Story About How Wife Drowned

Michael McLaughlin   |   February 17, 2012    4:02 PM ET

An experienced scuba diver who was there when Tina Thomas Watson died cast doubt on her husband's version of what happened on the day she drowned off Australia's Great Barrier Reef in 2003.

Dr. Doug Milsap testified for the prosecution that Watson told him two stories about how Tina died -- neither of which he believed.

In one version, Milsap recalled, Watson told him that his wife panicked, knocked off his mask, making him unable to help her. In another, he said he was holding her, but that she was too heavy to carry to the surface.

The tale wasn't plausible to Milsap, because underwater, a person's weight is the equivalent of 10 to 20 pounds.

"I got angry - like I feel now - and said, that's bulls---," Milsap said, according to The Courier Mail. "I tend not to have much tact, I tell it like it is."

Prosecutors argue that the defendant, a 36-year-old bubble wrap salesman, who had married his wife 10 days earlier, had planned her death to cash in on her life insurance.

The Alabama man served 18 months in an Australian prison for manslaughter. If convicted in a Birmingham courtroom, he faces life behind bars.

To preempt a possible move by the defense, prosecutors aired a taped deposition of Tina's doctor about a heart condition she had in 2001. Tina had a procedure two years before she died to correct an irregular heartbeat. Dr. Farrell Mendelsohn testified in a Birmingham courtroom that he considered her cured.

The defense contends that Tina's death was accidental and perhaps was gearing up to argue that her medical history put her at risk in diving, The Associated Press says.


One of Watson's friends -- a fellow scuba diver -- testified on the fifth day of the case. Although Watson was certified as a rescue diver, his pal Michael Moore said the certificate was awarded by an instructor who cut corners, The Birmingham News says.

Testimony from the human resources manager at Tina's job was deemed beneficial to the defense by the Birmingham newspaper. The Alabama Attorney General's office says Watson plotted his wife's murder, because he thought he was the beneficiary of an insurance package worth as much as $210,000. But the human resources manager said that Tina's policy through her employer was worth only $33,000 and that her father was the recipient.

In a police interview already played in court, Watson admitted that he "hung out" with the crew and asked for hugs while others performed 40 minutes of CPR on Tina, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Diver Says He Saw Honeymooning Husband Hold Bride Underwater

Michael McLaughlin   |   February 17, 2012    8:58 AM ET

Jurors will hear more about the final moments of Tina Thomas Watson's life, just one day after a diver said he saw the 26-year-old newlywed's husband hold her underwater, shortly before she drowned to death.

Stanley Stutz, a Chicago emergency room doctor, was diving in Australia in 2003, near defendant Gabe Watson. He testified Thursday that he saw Watson clutching his new wife before she sank to the ocean floor, The Associated Press says.

Stutz told the Alabama courtroom that he saw the woman flailing in the water. Then, Watson swam over and wrapped his arms around her for about 10 to 30 seconds.

The prosecution argues that the defendant was restraining his bride, to murder her. Stutz, however, thought Watson was attempting to help the woman, who may have been unable to handle the rigorous dive.

"Then they split apart," Stutz said, according to The Courier-Mail. "After, he went to the surface. She sank."

Watson is charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors in his home state say he drowned his wife on their honeymoon to collect a life insurance payout. The defense maintains that Tina, in her first open water dive, panicked and died accidentally. He served 18 months in Australia for manslaughter.

Ken Snyder, a former Marine on the dive, testified earlier that he was furious that Watson left his wife in the water, according to The Birmingham News.

Snyder also testified that he didn't believe Watson's explanation that she slipped away from him, because she panicked and allegedly dislodged his mask.

"That's bull s**t," Snyder said he told Watson. "That didn't happen."

Other divers testified that Watson, a certified rescue diver, broke a basic scuba-diving rule that all novices know.

"You don't leave your buddy unless they're dead, or they're trapped and you can't get them loose without assistance," testified Doug Milsap, according to The Birmingham News. "But if you can retrieve your buddy, there's no excuse for leaving."

However, some of the divers testified that current was strong, perhaps supporting an earlier claim by Watson that Tina was struggling underwater.

The prosecution says Watson plotted his wife's death before they got married.

Snyder's wife, who was also on the dive, said he seemed "panic stricken" when she saw him on the boat after Tina drowned, according to The Courier Mail. Later, he looked like he was in shock.

The defense played portions of an interview between Watson and Australian investigators, The Birmingham News says. During the video clip, he occasionally became emotional. The defense hopes it will counter the prosecution's argument that he was a plotting killer.


Kyle McGovern   |   February 16, 2012   11:34 AM ET

Gabe Watson, 34, stands accused of murdering his first wife, Tina Thomas Watson, on their October 2003 honeymoon in Australia. Watson served 18 months in an Australian prison after pleading guilty to a manslaughter charge, but is now on trial in Birmingham, Alabama and faces life in prison. His defense contends that her death was accidental while prosecutors say he drowned her to cash in her life insurance policy.

Oct. 11, 2003
Gabe Watson and Tina Thomas, both 26, marry in Birmingham, Alabama, The Birmingham News reports.

Oct. 15, 2003
The newlyweds arrive in Australia for their honeymoon.

Oct. 22, 2003
The couple go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef's historic Yongala dive site. Tina dies in what Watson says was an accident after she panicked underwater.

Watson becomes angry when he's told that his dive computer -- a wristwatch-sized device that records air-pressure, oxygen use and other data -- has been taken by police as evidence.

Oct. 27, 2003
Australian police interview Watson about the incident. Watson says the severe current caused his wife to panic.

Nov. 13, 2007
A coroner's inquest into the incident begins in Australia, The Birmingham News reports.

Aug. 15, 2008
Watson marries his current wife, Kim Lewis.

Nov. 28, 2008
Watson is indicted on a murder charge in Australia.

June 5, 2009
Watson pleads guilty to a negligent manslaughter charge in Australia, essentially admitting that while he did not save his wife's life, he did not intend to kill her. Watson is sentenced to 12 months in an Australian prison.

Sept. 18, 2009
An Australian appeals court extends Watson's jail time to 18 months.

Oct. 22, 2010
Exactly seven years after Tina Thomas Watson's death, Alabama state prosecutors get a capital indictment against Watson in Jefferson County.

Nov. 11, 2010
Watson is released from an Australian prison and is soon after flown to the United States. Upon landing in Los Angeles, police take him to a station for booking.

April 7, 2011
Circuit Judge Tommy Nail indefinitely postpones Watson's trial after state cutbacks leave Alabama courts short on security.

Feb. 13, 2012
Watson's trial in Birmingham begins. He is accused of first-degree murder and faces life in prison without parole.

Feb. 23, 2012
Judge Tommy Nail acquits Gabe Watson, agreeing with the defense that the prosecutors failed to present enough evidence that a crime took place. Prosecutors alleged that Watson drowned his wife for money, but the only witness to her death testified that he thought Watson was rescuing Tina.

Man Accused Of Drowning Wife On Honeymoon Weeps During Trial

Michael McLaughlin   |   February 16, 2012    9:17 AM ET

Gabe Watson, the man accused of drowning his wife while scuba diving on their honeymoon, wept Wednesday when prosecutors played an interview of him talking about his new bride's death.

The 34-year-old Alabama resident says his wife, Tina Thomas Watson, panicked and accidentally drowned in Australia in Oct. 2003. He cried while listening to an interview with Australian investigators in which he recalled learning that the 26-year-old woman perished.

The Alabama attorney general's office alleges that Watson turned off Tina's air supply and restrained her as she struggled underwater, in a ploy to collect her life-insurance payout.

Watson told police that early in the couple's dive with a group, they ran into trouble. The current was strong, Watson said, and Tina struggled to swim against it. She panicked and supposedly dislodged his mask. When he recovered, he says he couldn't reach her.

"She was out of arm's reach," he said in the police interview, according to media reports. "I couldn't grab her hand."

Watson's attorney handed him tissues to dab his eyes at the emotional climax of the day's proceedings, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation says.


The first-degree murder trial opened this week in Watson's homestate. He already served 18 months in Australian prison on a manslaughter charge. Watson, who has remarried, faces life behind bars if found guilty.

Tina was a novice scuba diver, but Watson was experienced. Prosecutors showed on Wednesday that Watson had been certified as an open water scuba diver, an advanced diver, rescue diver and specialty diver, ABC News says.

But when he says his wife was out of his reach, Watson told Australian police that he swam to the surface to get help.

Australian investigator Kevin Gehringer was the first witness on the stand, The Birmingham News reports. He testified that Watson became agitated on more than one occasion when police told him he could not have his dive computer back. A dive computer is a wristwatch-sized device that records air-pressure, oxygen use and other data from a dive, the newspaper said.


By JAY REEVES   |   February 15, 2012   12:46 AM ET

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- An Alabama man drowned his new bride during a dive on Australia's Great Barrier Reef in hopes of collecting $210,000 in insurance benefits and belongings that included her diamond engagement ring, a prosecutor told jurors in opening statements Tuesday.

Gabe Watson, 34, planned the honeymoon on the other side of the world and then used it to kill 26-year-old Tina Thomas Watson just 11 days after they wed in October 2003, said Assistant Alabama Attorney General Andrew Arrington. Watson is being tried on a charge of capital murder. The defense argued the woman's death was an unfortunate accident compounded by her own actions.

Scuba-Diving Murder Trial: Prosecutors Drop One Charge Against Husband

Michael McLaughlin   |   February 14, 2012    8:28 AM ET

Alabama prosecutors dropped one charge against Gabe Watson in the opening day of his trial Monday for allegedly drowning his wife while scuba-diving on their Australian honeymoon in 2003.

Prosecutors from the state's attorney general office charge that Watson, 34, turned off Tina Thomas Watson's air supply while they dove off the Great Barrier Reef in an attempt to collect on a life insurance policy. But they eliminated the count of murder during an abduction against him, The Birmingham News says.

Watson, who has remarried, still stands trial for allegedly carrying out a murder he planned to cash in the relatively modest $33,000 life insurance policy, according to "Good Morning America".

In his defense, Watson has said his spouse died in an accident. He says that Tina -- who was a novice scuba diver -- panicked underwater. When he tried to help, he says she dislodged his mask and by the time he repositioned his gear, it was too late.

Another swimmer on the dive told Australian investigators that he saw Watson restrain her in a bear hug. Prosecutors believe he flipped off the air switch and held her until she lost consciousness, then allowed her to sink to the ocean floor where her body was later recovered.

Tina's father, Tommy Thomas, points a finger at Watson because of advice his daughter sought from him days before she got married, according to "Good Morning America". Thomas claims that Watson asked his bride-to-be to max out her life insurance policy to $130,000 and to name him the beneficiary, instead of her dad. Thomas says he told his daughter to say she made the changes, but not worry about it until after the wedding.

Monday's proceedings focused on jury selection and motions, like dropping the murder during abduction count. David and Glenda Watson, Gabe's parents, sat in the audience. His new wife, Kim, also attended the first day of the trial.

Prosecutors down under went after Watson with murder charges, but reduced it to manslaughter. He was imprisoned until 2010 when he was deported to the United States.

Though Watson is charged with first-degree murder, he doesn't face the death penalty. Australian officials would only return him to the U.S. if prosecutors agreed to a maximum sentence of life behind bars.

Witnesses from as far away as Australia have been subpoenaed, but it's unclear if they will make the trip. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

By JAY REEVES   |   February 13, 2012    7:48 AM ET

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A dream honeymoon to scuba dive on Australia's Great Barrier Reef turned into a terrible nightmare, and the horror is about to play out years later in a courtroom in Alabama.

An Alabama man who already served prison time in Australia after pleading guilty to a reduced charged in the death of his bride goes to trial Monday, accused of murdering her for insurance money. Tina Thomas Watson drowned during a scuba dive on the reef just days after her wedding in October 2003.

GREG RISLING and RAY HENRY   |   November 25, 2010   10:20 AM ET

LOS ANGELES — An Alabama man who served prison time in Australia for his wife's drowning death during their honeymoon returned Thursday to the U.S., where he faces murder charges that could carry a much stiffer punishment.

Gabe Watson, 33, arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday morning after he was deported on a commercial flight from Melbourne, Australia. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Watson was accompanied by two Immigration Department staff and three Queensland state police officers. Watson cleared customs within an hour and was taken away in handcuffs.