Bridegroom Gabriel Watson charged with wife's scuba-dive murder
An American tourist was charged with murder yesterday for allegedly drowning his bride of 11 days on a scuba diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef during their honeymoon. Christina Mae Watson, 26, died while diving on a shipwreck near the northeastern Australian city of Townsville while her husband looked on.
Daniel Watson, 31, of Birmingham, Alabama, had claimed during police interviews that his wife had panicked a few minutes into the dive. He said that as she thrashed around in the water, she grabbed hold of his mask and pushed it off his face. He later described seeing her, with her eyes wide and arms stretched out towards him, sink into the deep.
Mr Watson was an experienced diver who had completed a diving rescue course and was acting as a “dive buddy” for his wife, who was a novice. Despite his training, he told police that he decided to go for help rather than attempt to rescue his wife. One of the leaders of the dive trip pulled Mrs Watson to the surface, but attempts to resuscitate her failed.
The incident in October 2003 was captured by another member of the dive party who stopped to photograph his dive buddy with an underwater camera. In the background Mrs Watson can be seen in the murky depths as the dive master swims towards her.
Police believe that Mr Watson turned off the air supply of his wife until she was dead, or nearly dead, then turned it back on and let her sink to the seabed. The murder charge followed several months of inquiry by a Queensland coroner, who finally ruled yesterday that there were suspicious circumstances to the death. Mr Watson was not in court to hear the indictment against him and no plea was entered on his behalf. His lawyer argued that there was no motive for murder.
But Mrs Watson’s father, Tommy Thomas, claimed that his daughter had told him before the wedding that her fiancé had asked her to increase her life insurance and change the policy to make him the sole beneficiary. Mr Thomas told the court that his daughter decided to lie to Mr Watson and pretend that she had made the changes.
Yesterday police began preparing a warrant for Mr Watson’s arrest, the first step in what is expected to be a drawn-out extradition battle. It is not known where Mr Watson is living.
The inquest in Townsville heard that police, who believed initially that the death was an accident, started to become suspicious when Mr Watson changed some details of his story.
A postmortem examination found no medical condition that could have explained the death of Mrs Watson. tests showed that there was nothing wrong with her diving gear.
In his findings David Glasgow, the Queensland state coroner, said that the exact circumstances may never be known but there was enough evidence of foul play to justify a murder charge against her husband.
“There are only two persons who know what in fact actually occurred,” Mr Glasgow said. “One is Tina, who cannot tell us, and the other is [Mr Watson].”
He indicted Mr Watson formally on a charge of killing his wife. The police said a warrant would be issued for his arrest and that prosecutors would prepare an application for his extradition from the US.
Mr Thomas, his wife, Cindy, and other family members watched as the coroner read out his findings via a live video link to Alabama. “We’re actually relieved to hear the coroner’s findings. It’s something that we have dealt with for quite some time and it validated our beliefs,” Mr Thomas said.