David Gabriel “Gabe” Watson, dressed in a suit and tie, his dark hair cropped short and sprinkled with grey, sat impassively in an Australian court Friday while a judge delivered his sentence: 4 1/2 years in prison for the manslaughter of his wife of 11 days, Tina Watson.
But the Brisbane Supreme Court judge suspended the sentence after 12 months, meaning Watson will spend only about a year in jail.
The Alabama man, 32, was charged with murder in the 2003 death of his wife while they were scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef just days after a dream wedding in Birmingham, Ala. Prosecutors accepted a plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter for failing in his role as her dive buddy by not giving her emergency oxygen.
Father Blasts Sentence
After the verdict, Watson’s father, Tommy Thomas, denounced the sentence as “ludicrous.”
“This is in no way, shape or form even a beginning to get justice for our daughter,” Thomas said. “It’s an embarrassment to … everyone involved. I think it’s an embarrassment to Australia.”
Thomas added, “We believe that Gabe Watson murdered our daughter. We will continue to believe that. This is not justice and this is not over.”
It was 5 1/2 years ago when newlywed Tina Watson, then 26, drowned while diving around the “Yongala” shipwreck, about 42 miles off the coast of Australia. Gabe, an experienced diver, and Tina, a novice, began to descend along a chain fixed to the bottom. They had only gone about 40 feet, Gabe later told authorities, when the underwater currents buffeted them. As Gabe told it, Tina suddenly signaled that she wanted to return to the surface and quickly started sinking.
Grabbing her by her buoyancy vest, he swam back to the chain. That’s when Tina’s hand hit his mask and regulator, knocking them askew. He said as he tried to readjust them, she started to sink to the bottom. He said he did his best to try and reach her, but “she was going down just as fast.”
At that point, he said, he made the decision to go for help. “I pretty much turned,” he said, “and just rocketed to the top.” But investigators later discovered he had headed to the top slowly. A diver immediately dove down and found Tina lying unconscious on the ocean floor. He raced her back to the top, but Tina could not be revived.
According to Tina’s father, shortly before the couple married, Tina told him Gabe had requested that she increase her life insurance benefits from her employer – the payout would have come to $165,000 in the event of her accidental death – and make him the sole beneficiary. She did not make the change, but the insurance company confirmed that Watson asked about her policy after her death, according to investigators.