Video: New trial in scuba honeymoon death?

  1. Transcript of: New trial in scuba honeymoon death?

    MATT LAUER, co-host: But we're going to begin this half-hour on a much more serious note. The Alabama man convicted in the 2003 honeymoon death of his wife, set to be deported back to the US. TODAY national correspondent Amy Robach is here with details on this. Amy , good morning to you.

    AMY ROBACH reporting: Matt , good morning. Their scuba diving honeymoon was supposed to be the happiest time in Gabe and Tina Watson 's life, but it ended in tragedy, and now Gabe Watson could face additional charges here in the US after officials here promised he would not face the death penalty . Gabe and Tina Watson were married in 2003 . For the honeymoon the couple went on a weeklong scuba trip to Australia 's Great Barrier Reef . It should have been the adventure of a lifetime, but for the new bride it ended in death. It happened moments after her very first dive into the ocean; 100 feet below the water Tina drowned. This chilling image taken by another diver shows Tina on the sea floor. Gabe said his wife panicked and that she was too heavy to bring to the surface.

    Mr. GABE WATSON: She was looking up, had both her arms out, you know, reached, stretched up, you know, almost like looking at me, reaching her arms up to grab.

    ROBACH: Australian authorities didn't believe his story. To them, Gabe , a certified rescue diver , didn't try to help his wife. He was charged with her murder . In a police re-enactment at the scene, investigators said Gabe gripped his wife in a bear hug and then turned off her air supply, ending her life. Gabe Watson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 18 months in an Australian prison. He was released earlier this month but could still face murder charges back in Alabama . Prosecutors believe the motive may have been hatched long before the honeymoon.

    Ms. SUSAN FILAN (Legal Analyst): What it sounds like the prosecutors are trying to build a case in the United States is that he tricked her to going to Australia and lured her down there to kill her so that he could get her life insurance .

    ROBACH: Before agreeing to send Watson back to the US, Australia sought and received a guarantee that he wouldn't face the death penalty if charged. His attorney says Watson is looking forward to being once again vindicated. Will it be vindication for him or justice for Tina ?

    Ms. CINDY THOMAS (Victim's Mother): When it's just a 26-year-old girl on her honeymoon thinking that she's starting her whole life, and then it's snatched away in an instant.

    ROBACH: Details on the timing of Watson deportation have not been released, but an immigration spokesperson said it would be as soon as possible. Matt :

    LAUER: All right, Amy Robach on this story for us this morning. Amy , thank you very much . Brett Bloomston is Gabe Watson 's attorney. He's here with us exclusively along with Alabama attorney general Troy King . Gentlemen , good morning to both of you.

    Mr. BRETT BLOOMSTON (Gabe Watson's Attorney): Good morning.

    Mr. TROY KING (Alabama Attorney General): Good morning, Matt.

    LAUER: Attorney General King , let me -- let me just ask you this right off the bat. Why do you have jurisdiction here? This happened in Australia , why does Alabama have jurisdiction?

    Mr. KING: Well, look, there are a number of different theories that would give Alabama jurisdiction. One is if he planned the crime in Alabama and then -- and then took her to Australia to kill her. The other would be if, when he killed her he intended to come back to Alabama in order to collect an insurance policy or otherwise benefit from his crime .

    LAUER: So you don't think you're going to have a hard time proving jurisdiction in this case?

    Mr. KING: I think Alabama has jurisdiction, Matt , or we wouldn't have gone to a grand jury.

    LAUER: The Australian government now says that they've received all the necessary assurances that if he comes back to Alabama Gabe Watson will not face the death penalty . You have apparently written a letter to the Australian officials saying you will not seek a sentence longer or more serious than life in prison . That's a complete contradiction to what you told me on this show back in October of last year. Take a look.

    Mr. KING: We would seek a capital sentence if we believe that's what the facts warrant because to do otherwise would allow Australia to water down Alabama 's law just like they've watered down their laws.

    LAUER: Would you seek the death penalty ? I mean, is that -- is that...

    Mr. KING: If I believe it's a capital crime , I will.

    LAUER: So are you allowing Australia to water down Alabama 's law now?

    Mr. KING: We call it extortion in Alabama , Matt. That's what happens when they -- when they say, 'We won't allow you to pursue this if you don't make these' -- look, they've watered down their law. Now they have watered down Alabama 's law. It was a difficult decision, but it was one that we made at the request of Tina Thomas ' family. They want a day in court. The Australian government took that away from them. They kept them from getting it. And as attorney general in Alabama , I do care what victims think.

    LAUER: Extortion? I mean, that's a pretty strong word.

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: Matt , the attorney general , the state of Alabama and local legislators pushed the Australian government to prosecute Gabe Watson for murder . That prosecution did not come for five years, after five years of investigation; and that pushing is only what prompted the Australians to push this case.

    LAUER: Well, what's your reaction to Gabe Watson possibly facing murder charges in Alabama ?

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: They're absolutely ridiculous. To theorize that Gabe Watson planned a murder of his wife, traveled halfway around the world , where there's absolutely no evidence of any financial motive, is as ludicrous as it sounds.

    LAUER: Why did Gabe Watson plead guilty to manslaughter? Why didn't he just plead not guilty?

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: Matt , he plead guilty to a very obscure Australian manslaughter law, which includes negligence. It's a negligent manslaughter standard. He plead guilty to being a bad dive buddy. He did not plead guilty to anything intentional and that the highest courts in Australia said that he was not guilty of intentionally causing...

    LAUER: The Australian police re-created what they believed happened under water, and they that if everything had happened the way Gabe Watson said it happened that Tina 's body could not have ended up where it was. How does he explain that?

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: An out-of-court experiment is fraught with difficulties, especially in the ever-changing climate of a dive site. We put no faith in that out-of-court re-creation whatsoever. The bear hug that was described in the piece, that was a rescue diver who was bear hugging her to the surface, and that's documented in the evidence.

    LAUER: Attorney General King , a couple of quick things, what do you think the motive was if murder in fact was committed?

    Mr. KING: Well, Matt , you'll have to wait. In Alabama , we can't talk about those sorts of things, and I'm not going to begin to speculate on them. We believe -- we believe that there was a -- that there was an adequate basis for us to pursue this. We believe that Alabama should go and get justice for its citizens when a country like Australia fails to do it.

    LAUER: If he comes back to Alabama , how quickly would you indict him?

    Mr. KING: I can't -- I can't speculate on something like that.

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: Matt , we understand an indictment has been returned. The question is will the attorney general allow him to turn himself in. He traveled halfway across the world to face a murder charge in Australia , which he was found not guilty. He did that on his own volition. He was facing a life sentence while over there, and yet we are told that...

    Mr. KING: Look...

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: ...they will not be satisfied until he is in cuffs when he lands in LA.

    LAUER: Will he turn himself in?

    Mr. KING: Look, Matt , this is all about defense lawyer sleight of hand.

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: Not at all.

    Mr. KING: He didn't go to Australia to face a murder charge. They had already -- they had -- they had already worked with him. They had cut a deal. He knew what he was doing when he went down there. He knew it. The family didn't know it, but he knew it.

    Mr. BLOOMSTON: Not true. That is not true.

    LAUER: When are we going to hear the next episode in this? When's the next chapter written in this, Attorney General King ?

    Mr. KING: I think it's in the hands of the Australians.

    LAUER: All right, Mr. King , thank you very much .

Image: US citizen Gabe Watson arrives at the Brisbane Airport.
Dave Hunt  /  EPA file
Gabe Watson arrives at the Brisbane, Australia, airport Nov. 11. He will be deported to Alabama.
TODAY staff and wire
updated 11/19/2010 9:13:51 AM ET 2010-11-19T14:13:51

The state of Alabama reluctantly gave into “extortion” by the government of Australia when prosecutors pledged not to pursue the death penalty against the so-called “honeymoon killer” if he returns to the United States, Alabama’s top law enforcement official said Friday.

“We call it extortion in Alabama … They have watered down their laws. Now they have watered down Alabama’s,” said Alabama attorney general Troy King during an appearance on TODAY. “It was a difficult decision to make.”

Australian officials said Thursday they would deport Alabama resident Gabe Watson to the U.S. now that U.S. officials pledged not to seek the death penalty if he is convicted again at home. Watson was released from prison last week after serving an 18-month sentence for the manslaughter of his wife, Tina, in 2003 during a trip on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

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‘Bad dive buddy’
Appearing with King on TODAY Friday, Watson’s lawyer, Brett Bloomston, said Watson never intended to kill his wife. His conviction and prison term in Australia for manslaughter were based on an “obscure” negligence statute, Bloomston said.

“He pled guilty to being a bad dive buddy,” said Bloomston, insisting Tina Watson’s death was an accident.

Video: New trial in scuba honeymoon death? (on this page)

Bloomston believes that Watson has already been secretly indicted by a grand jury in Alabama, where indictments are kept under seal until defendants are charged.

Alabama is operating on the theory that Watson either planned to kill his wife before their honeymoon trip to Australia or intended to return there to collect an insurance policy, King said. He declined to discuss evidence Alabama may have against Watson.

On Thursday, an immigration spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity because of department policy, said the Australian government had received assurances from U.S. officials that "the death penalty would not be sought, imposed or carried out."

"We are now satisfied that our international obligations have been met and are commencing plans for Mr. Watson's removal," she said.

She would not give details on the timing of his deportation but said it would be "as soon as possible."

Adrian Braithwaite, Watson's Brisbane-based lawyer, said the Australian government had refused to show him a copy of the U.S. assurance because it was a diplomatic document, but he had renewed his request to see it.

Video: Father of drowned bride wants ‘justice’ (on this page)

"At the moment I'm not taking the word of the government that they have received the assurances," Braithwaite told The Associated Press by telephone. "I want to be provided with a copy of the correspondence received from the United States so that we can be satisfied it's a binding assurance and properly advise our client."

He said the immigration department had pledged to provide him with 48 hours notice before Watson was put on a plane.

He said Watson was ready for whatever may happen upon his return to the United States. "He's not running scared from what might occur in Alabama," Braithwaite said.

‘Honeymoon Killer’
Watson was dubbed the "Honeymoon Killer" by the Australian media after his wife of 11 days, 26-year-old Tina Watson, drowned during a 2003 scuba diving trip.

In 2008, nearly five years after Tina drowned, the Queensland state coroner found there was sufficient evidence to charge Watson with her death, and he was officially charged with murder a few months later.

Video: Honeymoon killer in legal limbo (on this page)

In 2009, Watson — who had remarried — traveled to Australia to face trial.

Officials in Queensland state initially charged him with murder, arguing he killed his wife by turning off her air supply and holding her underwater. When Watson pleaded guilty to the lesser manslaughter charge last year, he was sentenced to 18 months — a punishment Tina Watson's family and Alabama authorities slammed as far too lenient.

Related: Drowned bride’s family hail homicide charge in case

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

Alabama Attorney General Troy King has said he believes Watson devised a plot in Alabama to kill his wife on their honeymoon, which would give the U.S. state jurisdiction to charge him. King has argued there are no international standards on double jeopardy that prevent Alabama from trying Watson again over the death.

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Last month, a grand jury met in Birmingham, Ala., to decide whether to indict Watson in his wife's death. It is unclear what the outcome of that session was because prosecutors haven't said and indictments in Alabama are not considered public record until a suspect has been arrested.

Under Australia's Extradition Act, a person cannot be deported to face prosecution on a capital charge unless there is an assurance the death penalty will not be imposed.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive


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