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Alabama Jury Acquits Man in Wife's Honeymoon Death

An Alabama jury acquitted Gabe Watson of murdering his wife during an Australian honeymoon in 2003. Watson previously spent 18 months in an Australian jail for the drowning death of his new wife Tina during a diving trip, where he had pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge involving negligence.

The trial judge granted the defense motion for acquittal at the close of the state's evidence, acquitting Watson of murder. The acquittal ruling before the defense had even presented its case indicated that the judge believed prosecutors lacked evidence to prove Watson intentionally killed his wife. There was no need for the case to even be presented to the jury for deliberation. This was a highly unusual outcome in such a serious case.

Watson had faced life in prison without parole if convicted of murdering his wife on their honeymoon. Prosecutors intended to show that Watson drowned her for insurance money. The only eyewitness testified he thought Watson was trying to save the woman.

The judge indicated that the state's evidence was "sorely lacking" and did not prove Watson had any financial motive. Defense attorneys argued that Watson didn't stand to gain anything monetarily because Tina Watson's father was the beneficiary of her life insurance policy. They contended her death was an accident. The defense argued that Tina Watson was wearing too much weight with her suit when she died, and that a strong current, her relative diving inexperience and a pattern of anxiety during dives were contributing factors.

An Alabama grand jury indicted Watson on charges of murder for pecuniary gain and kidnapping where a felony occurred, based on a theory that Watson hatched the plot to kill his wife while in Alabama. After his Australian sentence was complete, Watson was deported back to the United States.

The doctrine of double jeopardy (which says that a person cannot be tried or punished twice for the same crime) did not apply because two separate sovereigns, a state government and a foreign government, were seeking to prosecute.

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