Appeals hearing set for honeymoon death sentence

Published 2:47 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

An Australian appeals hearing on the 12-month sentence of a Hoover man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the drowning death of his wife is set for July 17.

Gabe 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 October 2003 death of Christina “Tina” Thomas Watson of Helena. The newlywed couple was on a scuba honeymoon dive in Australia.

Watson, a certified rescue diver, admitted in court he failed to fulfill his responsibilities as his Christina’s dive buddy.

Australian officials contacted the Alabama Attorney General’s office July 6 about the appeals hearing. Queensland Attorney General Cameron Dick said that he found Watson’s sentence “manifestly inadequate.”

Alabama Attorney General Troy King sent a letter to Dick in June demanding a maximum jail sentence for Watson. Tommy Thomas, Christina’s father, also filed an appeal requesting a harsher sentence.

State prosecutors intend to press charges against Watson if they find evidence that he planned to kill his wife while at home in Alabama and then carried out his plan in Australia.

Don Valeska, chief of King’s violent crime division in Montgomery, said prosecutors believe Watson murdered his wife because he was the beneficiary of her $160,000 insurance policy.