BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - Prosecutors say greed and deception led an Alabama man to kill his new wife during their honeymoon in Australia, but defense attorneys countered on Tuesday that “bumbling” law enforcement officials had created a crime out of a tragic accident.
Opening statements in the first-degree murder trial of Gabe Watson, 34, portrayed drastically different scenarios of how a young couple’s post-wedding scuba diving trip ended with 26-year-old Tina Watson dead.
Gabe Watson is accused of drowning Tina in October 2003 by turning off her oxygen supply during their dive in the waters off Townsville, Australia.
Assistant Alabama Attorney General Andrew Arrington said Gabe Watson was motivated by money, standing to gain a potential $210,000 in life and travel insurance from his wife’s death.
“The whole case is not just about murder, but murder and gain,” Arrington told jurors, adding, “He took her engagement ring as his last act of contact with her on this earth.”
Watson served 18 months in an Australian jail after pleading guilty to failing to do enough to help his wife. He is now being tried for murder in Birmingham, Alabama, where the couple married and where prosecutors say he plotted Tina’s death.
He faces life in prison without parole if convicted. Alabama authorities agreed to waive the death penalty in order to get Australian authorities to release Watson back to the United States.
The prosecution plans to call witnesses from both countries, including overseas investigators, dive experts and fellow divers on the Watsons’ trip.
Defense attorney Brett Bloomston described the Watsons as two novice scuba divers attempting an advanced dive in the Great Barrier Reef 11 days after their “fairy tale wedding.”
He said a “perfect storm” of unfortunate circumstances contributed to Tina Watson’s death, including strong currents and panic.
Gabe Watson is not on trial for whether he could have prevented his wife’s death, Bloomston said.
“This is not about what Gabe should have done and what he could have done to save her, but did he intentionally kill her,” Bloomston said.
“The investigation was all designed to eliminate everything but Gabe’s guilt,” the defense attorney said.
Both sides agreed that the scuba outfitter neglected to follow his own rules with inexperienced divers.
Tina Watson and her husband dismissed an orientation dive for Tina, a novice diver, with Gabe assuring the dive master that he could protect his bride with his rescue certification, Arrington said.
The trial is expected to last several weeks.
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune