David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson (born c. 1977) was accused of murdering his wife during a scuba diving trip in Australia. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served an 18-month prison sentence there. He was acquitted of state charges of capital murder in Alabama in 2012.
Watson, son of David and Glenda Watson, is a graduate of Hoover High School. He met Tina Mae Thomas while they were students at the University of Alabama. Tina took beginning diving lessons before the two were married on October 11, 2003. They planned a scuba trip in the Great Barrier Reef for their honeymoon. She earned her certification just before the wedding.
During an October 22 excursion to the site of the Yongala, a passenger ship that wrecked in 1911, Tina lost consciousness and sank to the bottom, 100 feet below the water's surface. Gabe claimed that the currents were stronger than they expected. He said that he responded to her signal to return to the dive rope where they had submerged and to have noted a look of worry on her face before she inadvertently knocked his mask loose. When he recovered his sight, she was sinking and he surfaced to get help. She was brought up by a trip director, already unconscious, and could not be resuscitated by a doctor on board the boat.
The incident was reexamined after Tina's family publicized their mistrust of Watson in 2006. In 2007 the FBI and Helena Police Department executed a search of Watson's home, confiscating computers and documents. After a 4 1/2-week inquest, Townsville coroner David Glascow determined in June 2008 that there was sufficient evidence of foul play to bring murder charges against Watson. Investigators for the Townsville police found inconsistencies in his story and widened their investigation with the help of Sergeant Brad Flinn of the Helena Police. They learned that Gabe had asked Tina to increase her life insurance coverage and to make him a sole beneficiary. She had not done so, however. During the inquest, prosecutors submitted evidence that Watson's story was implausible and contradicted the record of his actions stored in his dive computer. They suggested the possibility that Gabe turned off Tina's air regulator and held her until she was unconscious, then turned the air back on and let her sink before surfacing himself. As evidence they described painstaking re-enactments of various scenarios which had been carried out by police divers to determine plausibility.
Tina is buried in Pelham. Her remains were relocated in 2007 to a different lot purchased by Gabe. After being informed by the Thomas family that flowers were repeatedly disappearing from the grave site, even when chained down, Sergeant Flinn videotaped Watson removing them with bolt cutters.
Gabe Watson moved into the house in Hoover that he inherited from Tina after her death. He remarried (Kim) in August 2008. On May 13, 2009, he voluntarily returned to Australia to face charges, skipping the extradition process. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on June 5, admitting to having failed in his duties as his wife's dive buddy. He was sentenced to four years in prison with three years suspended. The Queensland attorney general later appealed the sentence and the court agreed to add six months to Watson's minimum sentence for a total of 18 months.
In September, Alabama Attorney General Troy King announced he would seek a capital murder indictment against Watson, which carries the death penalty. The rationale for prosecuting him in Alabama was that his intent was to profit from insurance purchased in the state. Under Australian law, a person cannot be deported to face a charge carrying the death penalty unless the country in question says it will not execute the defendant. The state agreed to that concession. After his release in November 2010, Watson waived his extradition rights, and was arrested upon his arrival at an airport in California.
Watson's trial was presided over by Judge Tommy Nall at the Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center in Birmingham beginning on February 13, 2012. Nall dismissed the charges after prosecutors failed to provide sufficient evidence that Tina's drowning was intentional or that Watson intended to gain financially from his wife's death.
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