For Gabe Watson and his young bride, a honeymoon spent diving off the Australian coast was meant to be the happiest week of their lives. Yesterday, nine years later, Mr Watson wept in a US courtroom as graphic images of his wife drowning on the the trip were produced as evidence that he was her killer.
The court heard that the 34-year-old, who has since remarried, is accused of turning off 26-year-old Tina Watson's air supply and holding her under the surface. Watson admitted that divers who saw it were likely to think his underwater struggle with Tina was suspicious. But he insisted he was trying to inflate her buoyancy control vest and drag his panicking wife to the surface.
"In the back of my mind I was thinking these people could see us, or at least think something [odd] was going on," the court heard Watson tell detectives in a taped interview played yesterday.
The couple married in 2003 in Alabama, where Watson now stands trial. Eleven days later, Tina Watson would be dead. Watson's lawyers claim "there was no financial motive" for him to murder his wife, adding that her father was the beneficiary of her life insurance policy and their travel insurance only covered the cost of the trip.
"This is a tragic case," Mr Bloomston said in court yesterday. "What's even more tragic is the blame Gabe has had to live with this last number of years."
In the taped interview, Watson told Australian investigators: "I remember shouting through my regulator 'Tina, Tina, Tina.'" He said his wife got into difficulty when the couple were hit by a strong current "five to seven minutes" into their dive. "She was out of arm's reach," he added. He said he swam towards her to help but returned to the surface when his own air supply was knocked off in the struggle.
Dr Stanley Stutz, a doctor who witnessed the incident, told the court Watson went to his wife briefly, "then he let go and she sank".
The case revolves around Watson's dive computer, used to track dives. He claims he signalled to his wife to return to the surface shortly after getting into the water because the dive computer was beeping, indicating the battery was not properly installed.
But prosecutors dismiss this as a ruse to lure his wife away from other divers, saying that the dive computer would not beep if the battery was not providing power. Detective senior constable Kevin Gehringer of Queensland, who conducted two taped interviews with Watson, testified that he became "a little agitated" when police told him on the night his wife died that he would not get the dive computer back. Mr Bloomstom will claim that Australian police never contacted the computer's manufacturer to see if it beeps when the battery is in upside down and said the prosecution was based on "bumbling" detectives believing that a problem with a dive computer on his wrist proved he killed the woman he loved.
Mr Watson was charged with murder in Australia and pleaded guilty to manslaughter, serving 18 months in prison. He was handed over to US authorities only after Alabama agreed to waive the death penalty. He faces life in prison if convicted.
- More about: