AN Alabama judge is set to decide whether Gabe Watson will walk free or face a murder trial over his wife’s scuba diving death in Queensland.
Judge Tommy Nail is scheduled to announce early Friday AEST if he will toss out the murder case against Watson that alleges the 34-year-old bubblewrap salesman tricked his bride of 11 days, Tina Thomas, to fly to Australia for their honeymoon and murdered her during a scuba dive.
If Judge Nail rejects Watson’s arguments for dismissing the case, Watson is expected to stand trial in Birmingham later this year.
He faces life in prison if convicted.
The hearing inside Birmingham’s Jefferson County court is a pivotal moment in the headline-grabbing case, which began on October 22, 2003, 89km off the coast of Townsville, when Ms Thomas, 26, died during a dive with Watson.
Watson’s lawyers argue the case should be dismissed because their client is a victim of “double jeopardy” and “vindictive prosecution” waged by the Alabama Attorney-General’s office.
“The indictment in this matter violates the defendant’s double jeopardy rights,” Watson’s lawyer, Brett Bloomston, wrote in a 50-page filing submitted to Judge Nail.
Watson has already served an 18-month jail sentence in Queensland after pleading guilty to Tina’s manslaughter.
Mr Bloomston argued the prosecution of Watson in Alabama violated his Fifth Amendment rights under the US constitution and contravenes a United Nations covenant signed by the US and Australia.
The Alabama Attorney-General’s office rejects that, telling Judge Nail in its 51-page response the charges Watson faces in Alabama are different to the manslaughter charge in Queensland.
Watson is charged in Alabama with capital murder in the course of kidnapping and capital murder for pecuniary gain.
“Because the Australian court and the Alabama court are separate sovereigns and because the crimes alleged are separate offences, the double jeopardy doctrine does not apply,” assistant-attorney general and lead prosecutor on the case, Don Valeska, wrote.
Mr Valeska alleges Watson planned to murder Tina before the couple flew from their home in Alabama to Australia for the honeymoon.
Watson allegedly pursued “pecuniary gain” by hoping to be the beneficiary of his bride’s insurance payouts after the death.
“The defendant murdered Tina Thomas with the desire for profit,” Mr Valeska wrote.
“The state asserts that not only did the defendant begin planning and scheming for the murder in (Alabama’s) Jefferson County, but he then initiated the purchase of insurance along with inciting his wife to purchase more insurance for herself, then he returned to the jurisdiction in an attempt to secure possession of said profit and gain after murdering her.”
Judge Nail has also been asked to rule on a number of other key elements in the case, including whether surveillance footage of Watson allegedly removing plastic flowers placed on Ms Thomas’ grave should be shown to a jury if the murder trial goes ahead.
Watson’s lawyers have also asked for a video taped re-enactment by Queensland police at the dive site to be banned from being submitted at trial.
Watson was granted $US100,000 bail in December.