Murder Case Dismissed in Death of Newlywed Wife

St. Joseph News-Press, February 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Murder Case Dismissed in Death of Newlywed Wife


(CNN) -- An Alabama judge on Thursday abruptly dismissed the murder case against a man accused in the scuba-diving death of his newlywed wife off Australia's coast.

The decision from Judge Tommy Nail came near the end of the second full week of David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson's trial in Birmingham.

According to Ken Glass, the judge's judicial assistant, Nail dismissed the case "after the state rested its case against Gabe Watson (and) the defense filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal due to a lack of evidence."

"I'm going to grant the defendant's motion for acquittal. This case is dismissed," Nail said, prompting an outburst of applause in the courtroom.

Afterward, a visibly emotional Watson put his face in his hands, then began hugging people around the room.

His 26-year-old wife, Tina, died October 22, 2003, while the pair were diving at a historic shipwreck off the Great Barrier Reef -- some 9,000 miles from Birmingham, where the two had wed 11 days earlier.

His father, David Watson, called the entire situation "terrible, it's tragic," while expressing satisfaction with the judge's decision.

"I'm just thrilled for Gabe, and I just hope everybody can begin to heal, get their lives back together," said David Watson, calling his son a "good kid."

Prosecutor Don Valeska said "this case is over forever," since there is no appeal possible.

"I strongly disagree with him," Valeska said of Nail. "I'm just extremely stunned, and I'm at a loss for words."

That sentiment was echoed by Tommy Thomas, Tina's father, who said "we're very disappointed" by Nail's decision.

"There just seems to be a lot more protection for the accused than there does consideration for the victim, which in this case was Tina," Thomas said.

After his wife's death, Watson returned from Australia -- where media dubbed him "The Honeymoon Killer" -- to the United States and remarried five years later.

That same year, in 2008, he pleaded guilty in Australia to criminally negligent manslaughter and subsequently served 18 months in prison in that country.

In October 2010, an Alabama grand jury indicted Watson on two counts -- murder for pecuniary gain and kidnapping where a felony occurred. Those charges were based on the premise that Watson hatched the plot to kill his wife while in Alabama.

The doctrine of double jeopardy -- which says that a person cannot be tried or punished twice for the same crime -- did 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.

After his sentence was complete, the Australian government held Watson for a short time in immigration detention in light of its policy of not extraditing anyone who might face the death penalty. …

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