Australia turns over documents to US authorities investigating honeymoon diving death case

By Kristen Gelineau, AP
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Australia gives US documents in diving death case

SYDNEY — A state government in Australia agreed Thursday to turn over documents to U.S. authorities seeking a capital murder charge against an Alabama man jailed in Australia for the drowning death of his wife during a honeymoon scuba dive.

Gabe Watson, 32, is serving an 18-month jail term in Queensland state after pleading guilty to a manslaughter charge in the death of 26-year-old Tina Watson during a 2003 scuba diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef. He was an experienced diver while she was a novice. They had only been married 11 days when she died.

Prosecutors initially charged Watson with murdering his wife by turning off her air supply and holding her underwater. Watson pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in June and received a one-year term — a sentence that angered Tina Watson’s loved ones, who felt it was too lenient.

An appeals court later increased the sentence to 18 months, but Tina Watson’s family and Alabama authorities still felt Gabe Watson deserved a stiffer penalty. In September, Alabama Attorney General Troy King announced he would pursue the capital charge, which carries a possible death sentence.

Since then, Tina Watson’s father, Tommy Thomas, has accused Australian authorities of stonewalling the Alabama investigation and ignoring repeated requests for information to bolster the case.

On Thursday, Queensland Attorney General Cameron Dick acknowledged King had contacted both state police and his office seeking documents from the trial to help build a case against Watson.

Dick said the request had raised complicated legal issues and after careful consideration, his office agreed to turn over publicly available information, including extracts of court proceedings and transcripts from the coroner’s inquest.

“I want to reassure Mr. King, Tina Watson’s family and the Queensland community that the government has every intention of being as helpful as it can. However, we have a duty to be lawful too,” Dick said in a statement. “The legal issues are quite complex and I want to ensure everything is done by the book.”

Of particular concern is how Australia would handle the possible extradition of Watson. Dick noted Australia’s staunch opposition to capital punishment. A conviction of capital murder in Alabama could carry a death sentence.

Under the Australian Extradition Act, a person can’t be deported to face prosecution on a capital charge, unless there is assurance the death penalty will not be imposed.

Dick said he has written to Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor, seeking advice on the matter.

King’s chief of staff Chris Bence has said there is no international standard on double jeopardy, or prosecuting someone twice for the same offense. King believes that Watson devised a plot in Alabama to kill his wife on their honeymoon, which Bence said gives the state jurisdiction.

Queensland Coroner David Glasgow said a possible motive for the killing was Tina Watson’s modest life insurance policy.

Watson is scheduled to be released in November.

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