Ala. judge keeps charges in honeymoon death case

AP News
Posted: Apr 28, 2011 2:35 PM
Ala. judge keeps charges in honeymoon death case

An Alabama judge declined Thursday to dismiss capital murder charges against a man accused of killing his wife during a 2003 honeymoon diving trip to Australia.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail denied motions to dismiss the charges against 33-year-old Gabe Watson in the death of his 26-year-old wife, Tina. Defense attorneys had asked the judge to throw out the charges based on double jeopardy, saying Watson had already served 18 months in an Australian prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Deputy Attorney General Don Valeska said the charges against Watson are different in Alabama and are based on the theory that Watson planned the crime in Alabama in hopes of collecting on a life insurance policy on his wife.

But defense attorney Brett Bloomston said his client is being charged with committing the same crime. Double jeopardy is the act of trying a person a second time for a crime for which he or she has been prosecuted.

"It's a clear case of the same facts being tried in two different jurisdictions," Bloomston said.

Nail denied the motion, citing several cases where defendants have been tried once in a foreign country and later in the United States.

The judge also refused to dismiss the charges based on defense attorneys' assertions that Alabama prosecutors did not have jurisdiction to bring charges in the state.

Watson's trial had been scheduled to begin May 23, but it was delayed because of budget cuts in Alabama's court system.

Nail did not set a new trial date, but indicated he would like to see the case tried before the end of the year if the money is available for the security needed for a case that has generated so much publicity on two continents.

Nail withheld ruling on several defense motions until the start of the trial, including a request that jurors not be shown a video secretly made by Helena police of Watson removing flowers from Tina Watson's grave in a Birmingham area cemetery.

Valeska said jurors should see the video because "it shows the state of mind of the defendant."

Bloomston said the tape is misleading and does not show the many times Watson put fresh flowers on his wife's grave. He said Watson was removing artificial flowers that had been placed there by others.

"It (the tape) is simply being offered to inflame the jury. They are trying to show animosity toward his wife. That's not the truth. If he felt animosity for anyone it was the people who have been ... calling him a murderer," Bloomston said.

Nail said he would rule on the motion during the trial, but said at this time he doesn't "see the relevance" of Watson's actions at the cemetery.

Watson, wearing a dark suit, a blue shirt and a striped tie, sat quietly during the hearing, speaking quietly at times with his attorneys. He declined to speak with reporters as he left the courtroom. In the audience were friends and family members of both the defendant and of Tina Watson. Many of Tina Watson's friends were wearing purple ribbons streaming from a picture of the newlywed, who was married 10 days before her death.

Tina and Gabe Watson met while both were students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She died while the couple was diving on a century-old shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef. Prosecutors claim Watson cut off her air supply, while defense attorneys say the death was an accident.

Both Bloomston and Valeska said they were pleased with the results of the hearing.

"The bottom line is we are prepared to go to trial and get Gabe before a jury," Bloomston said.

The state agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for Australia extraditing Watson.

Valeska said he wishes the judge had gone ahead and set a trial date, "but I understand the logistics. No one expected the courts budgets to be cut so much."

The judge also delayed ruling on whether to allow the jury to see a videotaped recreation of what prosecutors say happened during the dive.

Nail declined to issue a "gag order" prohibiting attorneys from talking about the case.

"This case has been talked about for six or seven years," he said.