"It must have been clear to the accused if he left her she would most certainly die. It's almost inexplicable he would make the decision to leave her."
-Brendan Campbell, Prosecutor for Queensland police
It was the 22nd of October 2003. A Wednesday. Twenty six year old Tina Watson was on honeymoon with her husband Gabe Watson. They had been married for just eleven days. Their Wedding took place in Birmingham, Alabama, United States where they lived. Gabe worked as a bubblewrap salesman and took a few weeks off from work for his honeymoon.
They left on their honeymoon just two days after their Wedding. Gabe and Tina flew to Sydney in Australia and spent a few days there sightseeing. They then left to go to Townsville and they arrived there on the 21st of October. They had their honeymoon planned out in advance.
Tina and Gabe Watson
Gabe had, prior to his departure from the United States, contacted Mike Ball Dive Expeditions Pty Limited. They were a diving company and he arranged a dive trip for him and Tina to do. The dive trip was to the historic shipwreck Yongala on the motor vessel Spoilsport.
On the 21st of October at 10pm, Gabe and Tina boarded the Spoilsport. It departed an hour and a half later and moored at the site beside the dive at 2am on the morning of the 22nd of October.
A few hours later, at 9am, the company briefed the divers on what was to happen during the dive and the route to take. Gabe and Tina had their own diving equipment with them and the company provided the air tanks. Tina and Gabe put on their equipment and went out with four others and entered the water to begin their dive.
Just a few minutes later, Gabe and Tina returned to the Spoilsport. Gabe said that there was a problem with his dive computer which was worn like a watch on his wrist. He changed the position of the batteries and Tina and Gabe went back out into the water again. Their dive was set to begin.
The Yongala is a shipwreck off the Great Barrier Reef that lies in 30 meters of water with the upper section of the wreck 16 meters below the surface of the water. It is a 350 steamer that sank in 1911.
Gabe and Tina had a plan for the dive. They planned to travel down the anchor line, drift across the top of the wreck, pick up a second line and return to the surface. Their dive began. Just minutes later, Gabe returned to the surface. He needed help. But he wasn't in trouble. Tina was.
One of the dive organizers went down and found Tina. He brought her to the surface and on to one of the boats. He then tried for 45 minutes to resuscitate her. But it was no good. Tina was dead.
At first, it looked like a tragic accident. A young woman on her honeymoon, just about to start a new chapter in her life, was dead. But when police spoke to Gabe, they became suspicious.
Everyone, apart from Tina, who took part in the dive that day was an experienced diver. Tina had taken part in eleven dives but none were in open water. That particular dive was known as a red dive due to the strong underwater currents. A red dive is normally recommended for advanced divers only. Police questioned why Tina would be on such a dive in the first place and why they had turned down an offer to have a guide with them.They had twice refused offers of an orientation dive with instructors while on the trip.
Gabe said that the severity of the current hit them as soon as they entered the water. They were being pushed along and constantly moving. According to Gabe , Tina indicated that she wanted to go back to the anchor line. He pointed to his inflator hose and motioned to Tina to put air in her buoyancy compensatory so that they could float up. But nothing happened from the inflator hose so Gabe grabbed a hold of Tina by the strap and started to head back to the anchor rope. Gabe then said that Tina accidentally knocked his mask off his face. He let go of her so he could fix it. He said that in a short space of time, Tina was 10 feet down and sinking further. She had her arms up and Gabe tried to grab hold of her but she was out of his reach. He swam to the surface to get help and that was when a dive organizer entered the water and brought Tina back up and on to one of the boats.
While they tried to resuscitate Tina for some 45 minutes, Gabe stayed on a different boat to the boat that his wife was on.
A further troubling issue was revealed. Gabe was certified as an open water scuba diver, an advanced diver, rescue diver and specialty diver yet despite those qualifications, he made no effort to save or help his wife.
Over the course of a number of conversations, there were inconsistencies in some of Gabe's account as to what happened. When police compared his account to his dive computer, they believed the record kept on that of what happened and the times involved contradicted him. Furthermore, other divers who were on the same dive described seeing Gabe in a bearhug with Tina just before she began to sink.
But police had to try to establish why would a man who was married for just eleven days want his wife dead? They believed they found a motive and that was money. According to Tina's father, Tina told him shortly before she married Gabe that Gabe had asked her to increase her Company insurance to the maximum and make him the beneficiary.
Tina and Gabe Watson
There was an Inquest into Tina's death. The Coroner looked at a number of issues. Gabe was Tina's dive buddy yet did not inflate her buoyancy control device or remove her weight belt. He didn't share his alternative air source with her. They also noted that when Tina was brought to the surface, her regulator was still in her mouth, her tank still had air, and tests indicated no faults with her equipment.
During the Inquest, Prosecutors submitted evidence that Gabe's story contradicted the record of his actions stored by his dive computer. They believed that Gabe turned off Tina's regulator and held her until she was unconscious, then turned the air back on and let her sink before surfacing himself. This was also in line with other diver's accounts of a bearhug.
The Autopsy revealed that Tina's cause of death was drowning and evidence of air embolism was found.
At the end of the Inquest, the Coroner, David Glasgow, concluded that Gabe:
held his wife under water, turned the valve off on her air cylinder until she suffocated, switched the air back on, and let her sink to her death.
Gabe was charged with murder in Australia. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The Judge sentenced him to four years in prison, to be suspended after he served twelve months in prison. That was later increased to eighteen months on Appeal.
When Gabe served his sentence, he was deported back to the United States. When he landed in the United States, he was immediately arrested and charged with murder there.
Prosecutors in Alabama believed they had Jurisdiction to try him for murder as they believed he planned the murder when he was in the United States.
After Tina's death, Gabe remarried and his new wife supported him at the Trial.
Gabe Watson and his second wife Kim Lewis
It was the Prosecution's case that Gabe didn't ascend as quickly as he might have. They believed that this showed that he intended to kill Tina. It was their case that he turned off her air supply just for long enough to kill her and then he turned it back on.
The Prosecution entered a photo into evidence. The photo had been taken by another diver and showed Tina in the background lying motionless.
They claimed Gabe's version of events was not in line with the dive computer records. Australian police officer Ken Gheringer told the Jury that Gabe was calm and provided a lot of detail. However, his tone changed when they refused to give his dive computer back to him. According to Ken, he became agitated and twice asked to have it returned to him.
The dive computer was a main part of the case as it tracked the dive. And the Prosecution believed he didn't ascend as quickly as he might have and they argued his dive records indicated the same. They believed he was in the water long enough to kill Tina.
Furthermore, the Prosecution argued that a dive computer would not beep if the battery was installed incorrectly and he used that as an excuse to get his wife away from other divers so that they could be in the water alone.
They argued that his motive was money and he wanted to get money from the life insurance.
However, in their opening statement at the Trial, the Defense stated that Gabe received no money and that he had no reason to kill Tina as he loved her. It was nothing more than a tragic accident. When the Prosecution closed their case, the Defense asked the Court to dismiss the case based on lack of evidence.
The Judge dismissed the murder case.
It was a decision that shocked some. There are people that believe that Gabe planned his wife's murder and killed her in Australia but there are others who believe she died as a result of an accident. The two most common causes of death in diving fatalities are drowning and air embolism.
But there was one aspect of the case that was truly shocking that happened after Tina's death. Tina's parents made a complaint to police that the flowers and gifts they left on Tina's grave were being vandalized and removed. They even tried attaching them with chains but it continued to happen. The police set up a hidden video at the grave. The video revealed that Gabe used bolt cutters to cut and remove the flowers and the gifts from the grave. It also showed him throwing them in trash cans.
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