'Honeymoon killer' murder trial starts in US
A NEWLYWED accused of murdering his bride on their honeymoon by staging a fake scuba diving accident repeatedly lied about the events leading up to her death, a court has heard.
Gabe Watson has already served 18 months in jail in Australia for negligent manslaughter over the drowning of his wife Tina at the Great Barrier Reef just 11 days into their marriage. He effectively admitted failing to do more to save her.
He has now gone on trial in America accused of plotting to murder the novice scuba diver by turning off the air in her tank. Australia agreed to extradite him only after the state of Alabama agreed he would not be liable for the death penalty.
The so-called "honeymoon killer" was accompanied by his second wife, Kim Lewis, on the opening day of his trial, as prosecution and defence lawyers set out opposing views of Mrs Watson's death eight years ago.
Watson claims that his wife, who was a novice diver, panicked while taking part in a scuba dive which she was too inexperienced for, knocking off his face mark when he tried to go to her aid. By the time he recovered, she had floated out of reach.
On the opening day of his trial at Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham Alabama, the prosecution argued that Watson, 34, had given differing accounts of what had happened on the dive, further raising suspicion by prising the diamond engagement ring off his wife's finger as she lay in a funeral home.
Andrew Arrington, for the prosecution, said: "The problem is all the times the defendant has lied. Why is he lying?"
He added that Watson had "doggedly pursued" what he thought was a $130,000 (€98,000) life policy.
The jury of six men and eight women, including two alternate jurors, were shown a photograph taken by a fellow diver of Mrs Watson's body floating lifeless on the sea bed near a shipwreck in the waters off Queensland. "The last image of Tina is right here," Mr Arrington said.
He told the jury they would hear from two witnesses on the dive who confronted Watson about his wife's death, telling him they did not believe him when he said his wife had panicked.
But for the defence, Brett Bloomstom told the jury that the dive was a "perfect storm" of bad decisions, accusing the trip's organisers, Mike Ball Expeditions, of making a series of errors.
He claimed that 26-year-old Mrs Watson had attained only a "green" level of diving experience, but was allowed to go on the "red flag" dive. She was not taken for an orientation dive, and had been given weights which were too heavy for her body.
"This case is not about whether or not he could have saved her. It's whether he intentionally killed her, and he did not," Mr Bloomstom told the jury.
"They were in love and they planned their honeymoon and wedding. This is a tragic case and what is more tragic is the blame Gabe has had to live with." Portraying the couple as happy and loving, Mr Bloomstorm claimed that Watson had even surprised his bride with tickets to the Sydney Opera during their honeymoon, leading her to cry tears of joy.
He denied that Watson had killed his wife in order to claim on her life insurance, pointing out that it was her father who had been the beneficiary of the policy. "He did not get a penny," the lawyer said.
The case continues.