State may pursue murder charges against Watson

Published 3:51 pm Monday, June 8, 2009

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office intends to press murder charges against a Hoover man if state prosecutors find evidence that he planned to kill his wife while at home in Alabama and then executed his plan during their honeymoon in Australia.

Don Valeska, chief of Attorney General Troy King’s violent crime division in Montgomery, said Monday King will send a letter to the Australian courts demanding a maximum jail sentence for Gabe Watson.

Watson, 32, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison in Brisbane Supreme Court June 5. However, a judge ordered Watson’s sentence be suspended after he has served 12 months. Watson pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2003 drowning death of Christina “Tina” Thomas Watson of Helena.

If King’s letter is ill received by the Australian courts, the attorney general’s office will build its case against Watson. Valeska said prosecutors believe Watson murdered his wife because he was the beneficiary of her $160,000 insurance policy.

“If you start a crime here, you may be liable here,” said Valeska, adding the state’s charges against Watson could be brought before a Shelby County or Jefferson County grand jury.

Lt. Brad Flynn of the Helena Police Department, the lead U.S. investigator in the case, plans to meet with prosecutors in the attorney general’s office this week. He declined to comment on the details of the meeting.

“The attorney general’s office has been a big help with us over the last couple of years with this case,” Flynn said. “We’ve talked about several options and now we’re exploring those options.”

Flynn flew to Australia last week to attend the sentencing with the Thomas family. Flynn had hoped for a trial, and wasn’t anticipating the plea bargain reached between Watson and the prosecution.

“I was shocked to put it mildly. We never in a million years anticipated it would be that low of a sentence,” Flynn said. “The prosecutors told us they were going to ask for six years, and needless to say there’s a big difference between six years and 12 months.”

Watson, a certified rescue diver, admitted in court he failed to fulfill his responsibilities as his wife’s dive buddy during a scuba diving expedition on the Great Barrier Reef.

Prosecutors believed Watson murdered Christina on Oct. 22, 2003, just 11 days after their wedding. An Australian coroner last year ruled Watson should be charged with Christina’s murder, alleging Watson cut off Christina’s air supply.

Watson voluntarily returned to Australia on May 12 to stand trial. He was arrested by authorities at Brisbane International Airport and jailed.

Efforts to reach the Watson family were unsuccessful. However, Tommy Thomas, Christina’s father, Amanda Thomas, Christina’s sister, and friend Amanda Phillips told the Australian newspaper Brisbane Times the court’s decision is “ludicrous.”

“I believe probably the entire Australian nation as well as our nation back home shares in the shock we’ve just seen,” Tommy Thomas said. “It’s total injustice, it’s ludicrous what we have seen. This is in no way, shape or form even beginning to get justice for our daughter.

“We believe that Gabe Watson murdered our daughter and we will continue to believe that. This is not justice, this is not over.”