Death of Tina Watson

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Christina Mae "Tina" Thomas Watson (13 February 1977 – 22 October 2003), was a 26-year-old American from Helena, Alabama. She died on her honeymoon on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia in 2003. She had only been married to her husband, David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson, for 11 days when she died. The doctor who performed the autopsy said she drowned in a scuba diving accident.[1]

Six years later, Gabe Watson was charged for murder and manslaughter. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sent to prison for a year by an Australian court.[2] Six months were added to the prison sentence after an appeal that took place just six weeks later. The appeal was held as soon after the trial as possible because of concerns raised by Tina's father with the trial itself. However, the appeal judges agreed with the trial judge on most of the issues except the six month increase in the prison sentence.

Tina was a Southern Baptist and a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). She worked as a departmental manager at the small Southern department store chain, Parisian. She was buried at the Southern Heritage Cemetery, in Pelham, Alabama, USA.[3]

Investigations[change | change source]

A shipping buoy marks the site of the SS Yongala

While scuba diving at the site of the SS Yongala, a passenger ship that sank in 1911 in the main southern shipping channel to the Australian port of Townsville,[4] Tina Watson either lost consciousness or died and then sank 24 meters to the sea floor below.[5] Tina's death of accidental drowning was not a criminal investigation in itself in Australia. It was a coronial enquiry. Mr Watson gave evidence to the Coronial Inquiry through his lawyers. He returned to Australia voluntarily and spoke to investigators on a number of occasions. Some of these interviews are available on the Internet. At trial, prosecutors said that Mr Watson had made a mistake in not trying to rescue his wife. They said that mistake was the same as manslaughter (see Court of Appeal Judgement). Tina's father testified that, immediately before their wedding, Gabe had asked Tina to increase her life insurance policy to the maximum possible and make him the sole beneficiary.[6][7]

After hearing that flowers and gifts left for Tina at her grave were being destroyed or were disappearing, even when held down by a chain, Sergeant Flynn investigated it. On a hidden videotape, he saw Gabe Watson taking them away with bolt cutters and then throwing them in the trash angrily.[8] Gabe then married Kim Lewis on August 15, 2008.[9]

The trial[change | change source]

Gabe Watson was tried for the murder of his wife, Christina, in the Queensland Supreme Court at Brisbane on 5 June 2009. He said he was "not guilty" of murdering his wife. To the charge of manslaughter, accidental killing, he said he was guilty. The trial judge said the murder charges made against him were not true and sentenced him to one year in prison, with a further three and a half years suspended.[2] This sentence resulted into Tina's father calling the Australian justice system a "sham". He also said one of Australia's most senior government lawyers, Mr Tony Moynihan, had been misleading the public.

The reason Gabe received the one year in prison, was explained by the judge. He said that Gabe had been accused of things of which he had not been guilty, had suffered considerably since Tina's death, and had co-operated with the Court. He said the media reporting had been unfair. The judge said Gabe had come back to Australia of his own free will in May of 2009 and given himself up. The judge said Gabe loved his wife, deeply regretted her death and felt guilty because he had been unable to save her. He said that Gabe had not caused the accident, but had failed to save Tina when she ran into difficulty with her breathing while underwater.[10][11]

The appeal[change | change source]

Three judges heard an appeal started by the State of Queensland on 17 July, 2009. The state wanted Gabe to serve two and a half years in prison. Gabe's Australian lawyers said the extra time was unfair because of the history of the case. The judges published their decision on 18 September, 2009.[12]

To understand the outcome of the appeal, it is necessary to understand a little of the legal process and thinking that lawyers put into an appeal. On one side we have the State of Queensland, Australia. In Australia, as in England and countries such as Canada and New Zealand, the State is usually called the "Crown" in court proceedings. In the US, the State is usually referred to as "The People" or simply the "State". The appeal was heard before three judges of the Queensland Court of Appeal, which is the State's highest court.[13]

The outcome of the appeal[change | change source]

The Crown had said that Gabe's sentence should be increased because it believed the sentence was wrong. Gabe's lawyers replied this was not the case. They said that Gabe had never done anything wrong in the past and he was a good person. The death of Tina resulted from an error or mistake, and the short prison sentence was a fair in his lawyers' opinions.

The Court of Appeal judges also said that the murder claim was not true. The judges were in agreement about most of the trial. However they did not agree about the prison sentence. On one hand, Justice Muir said the appeal court should not change the decision of the trial judge. On the other, Chief Justice De Jersey said prison time should be increased to two and a half years. In the third opinion, Justice Chesterman said it ought to be increased from twelve months to eighteen months.[14] To reach agreement, the Chief Justice went with Chesterman's opinion.

With the agreement of two of the three judges, the sentence was increased to eighteen months. Each judge carefully explained their view.[15] Finally, Chesterman said of Gabe Watson, "That the respondent himself promptly provided the information which proved the case against him and that for years he has borne the unjust charge, made very public, of murder are factors requiring substantial amelioration in sentence." (Gabe Watson gave the information which showed he had killed his wife accidentally. Because he was for many years unfairly blamed and unfairly accused for her murder, he should have his prison sentence shortened.)

Media attention[change | change source]

Diver with similar diving gear as Tina Watson wore when she died.

For four years, no one took much notice of the death, as there is a drowning in the Australian state of Queensland about once a week. Tina's parents however, set out to get the attention of the media and by 2007 had succeeded. Other people were diving near Gabe and Tina when Tina died. One diver photographed Tina, lying on the ocean floor, while taking a picture of another diver on holiday.[16] This picture was not known until a couple of weeks later when the pictures were developed. Investigators are uncertain if Tina was already dead in the picture or if she was unconscious. The picture gives no clues as to what made Tina sink to the bottom.[17]

After being informed by Tina Watson's family that flowers and gifts were repeatedly being vandalized or disappearing from the grave site, even when chained down, Sergeant Flinn investigated. On hidden surveillance videos, he saw Gabe Watson removing them with bolt cutters and putting them into the trash, which Flinn then showed to media.[18]

Tina Watson's father told the media in November 2009, two months after the appeal decision, that he thinks Gabe is a copycat killer. He might have got the idea for the murder by a copying the way another, almost successful, murder was done in the British Virgin Islands.[19][20]

The death of Tina Watson was shown in a 90-minute account that was shown on Dateline NBC on Monday, May 19, 2008.[21] Watson's death caused media attention in both Australian and American media and also from media around the world because of the unusual case.

However, media in particular from the Australian state of Queensland, have continually described Tina's death as "murder" while Queensland Courts have found it to be manslaughter by way of a failure to rescue. This issue finally came to a head with the Townsville Bulletin on 10th February 2010. They again described Tina's death as "murder". Seven days later they published an apology and correction which says:

"On February 10, 2010 an article was published concerning ‘murdered US bride Tina Watson’. The Townsville Bulletin accepts that Gabe Watson has not been convicted of murdering Tina Watson. Tina died while scuba diving at the Yongala wreck on October 23, 2003. Gabe Watson pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of his failure to take Tina Watson to the surface when it was apparent she was in distress and by this inaction this constituted criminal neglect."[22]

On July 17, 2010 a leading Australian daily newspaper, The Age, published a complete review of the Watson case "Death on Reef Mystery".[23] The author was award winning investigative journalist Peter Patrick. This is the first media account to contain first-hand interviews from both Gabe Watson's family and Tina's family. Relying on technical experts, the story reports that Gabe was exonerated by the Queensland Court of Appeal of murder but convicted of failing to comply with a previously unused and little known part of the Queensland Penal Code. This is a violation of section 290. He says the court decided to call this manslaughter. The story says the charge amounts to a crime by Gabe of failing to rescue his wife, once she got into trouble. It also explains Tina's extensive history of heart irregularity and the medication she was taking, the morning of her death, including anti-sea-sickness pills. Patrick says that Tina gave a 'no' answer to the medical question at her diving induction, which asked about prior heart disease. He also states that because Watson had been absent from diving for some years, his level of rescue skill would have been that of beginner.

The story would eventually have worldwide ramifications, for in a footnote, Patrick revealed he had written to Australia's Attorney General, Robert McClelland MP, requesting Watson not be deported to Alabama, because of the risk he faced from the death penalty in that state and because he had already been tried in the Australian State of Queensland, with a comprehensive review by the Queensland Court of Appeal. This brought an instant response from an Alabama police web site, questioning the link between the journalist and Watson.

Ignoring Alabama's wishes, the Australian Government then advised Watson would not be deported and invited him to request a Visa that would allow him to remain in Australia.

Watson was deported in November to face new charges by a grand jury in his home town of Birmingham. Watson arrived at Los Angeles Airport on the Thursday 25th November, 2010, accompanied by Queensland police officers and Australian immigration officials. He was immediately imprisoned in California to await extradition to Alabama, the following week.

After eighteen months in an Australian prison, Watson spent the 2010 Thanksgiving he wished to spend at home, in a Los Angeles County Lockup facing the prospect of life in prison in Alabama. He was transferred to the Birmingham Al., Lockup ten days later.

Bail application[change | change source]

On December 15, 2010, Watson appeared before Judge Tommy Nail in the 10th Judicial Circuit, Jefferson County, Alabama and requested bail.[24][25]

The court room was packed with his friends and relatives, both Australian and U.S. media with a smaller showing from Tina's family.

Don Valeska Alabama's assistant attorney general, told the judge the basis of the Grand Jury indictment of Gabe Watson was evidence from Tommy Thomas that Gabe Watson had murdered Tina Watson for insurance money.

In often heated argument, Judge Nail said that motive could not be substituted for evidence. He asked what hard evidence the State had against Watson. Mr Valeska replied that the question of motive was a question for the jury.

After an hour long hearing, Watson was granted bail with a bond of $100,000. He had to wear a monitoring radio bracelet, surrender his passport, not leave Alabama, and remain in doors at his home from sundown to sunup during the bail[26].

On hearing that bail was to be granted, those in the Court room rose and cheered, causing Judge Nail to respond with the words, "Sit-down, sit-down, this is not a spectator sport."

Arraignment[change | change source]

On January 31st, 2011, Gabe Watson appeared in Judge Nail's court to formally answer two charges firstly, that he had kidnapped Tina and taken her to Australia with the intention of murdering her and secondly, that he had then murdered her while Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.[27]

He pleaded "Not Guilty" to both charges.

The trial date was set at the 23rd May 2011 (later changed to 13th February 2012 due to security concerns). Mr Valeska told Judge Nail that important witnesses were to be flown in from Australia. He then added that a previous witness Mr David Glasgow, the Queensland Magistrate who was the Australian official responsible for Gabe's indictment of murder in Australia, would not now be called. No reason was given as to the reason why the State had changed its mind on calling Mr Glasgow. The arraignment lasted just fourteen minutes

Developments during 2011[change | change source]

With Watson's arraignment occurring in late January 2011 and the trial not commencing until mid February 2012, there has been a number of significant and new developments. Not the least being questions as to who is available to give evidence of the State's case for murder.

On 22nd April, 2011, Australian journalist Peter Patrick published the second of his major stories on the case. Documented for the first time, is the account of Mr Colin McKenzie, a 50-year diving veteran who says he recanted earlier evidence because he felt he had been misled. Under the headline, "Watson a 'coward but not a killer'", McKenzie says "I gave that evidence to the police, but then I found out his rescue course was over two days - in Australia we do it over four days - in a quarry in Alabama... He had no hope of being competent... Now the story's come out that he couldn't even put his fins on. I just don't see that it could have been premeditated." [24][25]

Patrick reveals he is an experienced scuba diver and while diving on the Yongala to investigate Tina's death, had an abnormally high air consumption, which he puts down to constantly swimming against unpredictable currents flowing across the wreck.

The strongest criticism of the Watson murder theory is made in the Sydney Morning Herald and comes from Dr Carl Edmonds. It is written by Jennifer Cooke, one of the authors of "Honeymoon Dive", a book recommended as "compulsory reading" by Alabama Prosecutor, Don Valeska.

Here Dr Edmonds, who was previously Chief Medical Officer to the Royal Australian Navy's elite, clearance diving teams, and is a world expert on diving accidents, says in a story headlined, "Honeymooner's diving death 'an accident, not murder".

"If you listen to Gabe's story, it is very consistent with a really straightforward, panicking diving accident, Dr Edmonds said. "It's all very plausible. In fact, it's like so many other diving accidents".[28]

Gabe Watson acquitted[change | change source]

On February 23, 2012, the case against David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson was dismissed by Judge Tommy Nail in a Birmingham, Alabama County Court. The Judge found the State's case lacked credibility and said, "It just doesn't make any sense quite frankly."

In concluding his findings, His Honor determined, "There is no evidence to suggest that he [Gabe] intended to kill her and he hatched it here and carried it out there. I'm going to grant this defendant's motion. Case dismissed."

Watson was never at risk of facing the death penalty as both the U.S. Government and the State of Alabama had given undertakings to the Australian Government, he would not be executed. He faced a mandatory life sentence, if found guilty.

Fatal Honeymoon - Lifetime Movie Network[change | change source]

On 25 August 2012, The Lifetime Movie Network ran a cable TV movie titled, "Fatal Honeymoon".

It was billed by the Network as a movie, based on the true story murder allegations that Gabe Watson had kidnapped then murdered his new wife Tina Watson during their scuba diving trip to Australia in 2003. It stars Billy Miller as Gabe Watson and Aussie Amber Clayton as Tina, with Harvey Keitel in a supporting role as the father of the dead bride. Well known Aussie actor, Gary Sweet plays tough Queensland cop, Detective Campbell, the lead Australian investigator.

The screenplay follows much of the work of Lindsay Simpson and Jennifer Cooke, published in their book, "Honeymoon Dive",[29] and seems based on this title. While this work remains the most comprehensive attempt to review the death of Tina Watson, current events since publication have largely overtaken the Simpson/Cooke account of the fatality.

"Fatal Honeymoon" was directed by Nadia Tass. The screenwriters were Mac Gudgeon and Teena Booth. Geoff Berkshire, writing for Variety TV Reviews [30] says of the screenplay, "There's no sense that these stick figures trapped in a by-the-numbers melodrama could be real people swept up in tragic circumstances...Tech credits are in line with low-budget telepic standards."

Similarly, Jill O'Rourke in a review on the web site, "Crushable",[31] describes "Fatal Honeymoon" as a show, underscoring Lifetime's skill at "making men look irredeemably evil and women look like clueless victims".

The quality of the underwater vision is particularly poor, even accounting for the difficulties in working in that medium. Many of the scenes in the movie did not take place or took place in a substantially different form to what is portrayed. The following are just some of the many scenes which are entirely fictional.

(1) The movie shows Gabe present at the Southern Heritage Cemetery, in Pelham, Alabama overseeing the move of Tina's remains as Tommy arrives to place flowers on her grave. An argument quickly develops between the two men. That never occurred. Gabe was not at the cemetery on that day and did not manage the move of the body of his late wife.
(2) Gabe is portrayed as having sex with Kim Lewis in what was previously the home of Tina and Gabe, as Queensland cop, Gary MacDonald knocks on the door, backed up by the FBI and Alabama State Police. That never happened, Gabe was alone at home at the time of the search. Lewis is demeaned as a woman satisfying Watson's irksome nature.
(3) The subsequent conversations between Gabe and Kim have never been reported as having taken place and are figments of the screenwriters imagination.
(4) American tourist Ken Snyder, turns to the camera, just minutes after Tina's death and accuses Gabe of talking "bullshit". Snyder used some of these words seven years after Tina's death, but none at the time of her death.
(5) A sea buoy is seen floating which is said to mark where the Yongala lies. The real buoy is worn and battered as shown on this page. The movie buoy is bright and new, created just for the movie.
(6) Tommy Thomas collapses on the floor of a washroom in a motel he was staying when he hears the news of Tina's death. He didn't.
(7) Detective Kevin Gehringer and Detective Senior Sergeant Gary Campbell (the Queensland detectives) talk with Tommy Thomas who gives them a motive. There is no record of such a conversation.
(8) Now we see Bob Austin, Watson's U.S. attorney flying to Australia to confront the authorities down under. Austin never left Alabama. Further, Gabe treats Austin and the men of his father's generation with due respect and does not behave as portrayed in the movie.
(9) The findings of the Queensland judge in Watson's Queensland trial are substantially altered, as is the sentence. For instance, in the movie, Watson is given a years hard labor, which presumably appeals to U.S. audiences. Hard Labour was abolished in all Australian jurisdictions by 1988 and has not been a lawful sentence in that country for over thirty years.
(10) The findings by the Queensland Court of Appeal that Watson was "falsely charged", are carefully excluded from the movie as are the statements of Judge Tommy Nail that the State's case did not make any sense.
(11) The statements of Tommy Thomas, now delivered by actor Harvey Keitel, were never made on the steps of Queensland's Supreme Court. Instead, the real Tommy Thomas made a short virulent statement, saying that Australian Justice was a disgrace and her judges incompetent.
(12) The movie ends with a scene, where Gabe sees an "apparition" of Tina in the waters of a swimming pool, while he is partying, celebrating his acquittal. There was no such pool. The scene looks like it is a copy from Nicole Kidman's mockumentary film, "To Die For", where Kidman as the murdered news reporter is seen lying face up, transfixed in a frozen gaze.

References[change | change source]

  1. Christopher Goodwin (28 September 2008). "Tina Watson: the bride who drowned at the Barrier Reef". TimesOnline. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Drowned bride". CNN. Retrieved January 21 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. Andy Toulson (5 November 2008). "Watsons grave". Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  4. "Alabama man jailed in scuba honeymoon death". CNN. 5 June 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  5. "Full transcript of Gabe Watson's interview with Townsville Police". Bulletin. 23 January 2008. Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  6. Horrific picture of drowned diver captured in underwater tourist snap, but was it murder? Retrieved 25 August 2015
  7. American charged over Barrier Reef diving death Transcript Radio Australia June 20, 2008 Retrieved 25 August 2015
  9.,,24531496-2,00.html October 22, 2008
  10. "Holiday snap clue to diver death". The Telegraph. Retrieved January 21 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. Duff, Eamonn (2009-06-07). "US challenges killer husband wrist-slap". Retrieved 2009-06-09.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  12. "Family grateful for Crown appeal on Gabe Watson's sentence". Courier Mail. Retrieved January 21 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  13. "Judge too soft in Gabe Watson sentencing". Courier Mail. Retrieved January 21 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. Evan Schwarten (November 28, 2008). "Nth QLD dive death suspect to be indicted". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  15. Calligeros, Marissa (2009-09-18). "Jail term extended for honeymoon dive killer". Retrieved 2009-09-18. 
  16. Richard Shears (21 November 2007). "Horrific picture of drowned diver captured in underwater tourist snap, but was it murder?". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  17. Toulson, Andy (2007-11-23). "Air tank turned off: court". Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  18. T (2008-11-23). "Townsville report". Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  19. "Father of drowned scuba diver says death was a copycat murder". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved January 21 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  20. "Did Gabe Watson copy caribbean killer". Brisbane Times. Retrieved January 21 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  21. Dennis Murphy (June. 20, 2008). "Mystery in the deep blue sea". Retrieved 2008-12-17.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. "We Regret..." Townsville Bulletin. Retrieved February 18 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  23. Peter Patrick (17 July 2010). "Death on reef mystery?". Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Peter Patrick (22 April 2011). "Death at 27 Metres". Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 AAP (26 April 2011). "watson a coward but not a killer". Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  26. "Alabama judge sets $100,000 bail for Honeymoon Killer Gabe Watson". 
  27. Eric Velasco (01 February 2011). "Gabe Watson heads for Jefferson County court to enter plea to Alabama charge in wife's death in Australia". Retrieved 2011-02-01.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  28. Jennifer Cooke (2 July 2011). "Honeymooners diving death an accident not murder". Retrieved 2011-07-2.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  29. "Honeymoon Dive". Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd. Retrieved 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  30. "Fatal Honeymoon". Variety TV Reviews. Retrieved Aug 22, 2012. 
  31. "Fatal Honeymoon". Crushable Web Site. Retrieved 2012-08-26. 

Other websites[change | change source]