Reef dive drowning murder is a fantasy

Here is  totally different aspect on the so called honeymoon killer. A Journo who says he is innocent of the murder charge! I was reading this today in the Australian by Hedley Thomas, makes a good story, I have not really gone into this case.What do you think?

Gabe Watson with wife-to-be Tina on their engagement

THE public has been repeatedly conned by lurid tales of the honeymoon killer. 

SO you think you know Gabe Watson did it. The lantern-jawed, strongly built man from Alabama murdered his pretty blonde wife of 11 days, Tina, while diving with her on the Great Barrier Reef during their honeymoon, right?

And you probably have come to this view because he had motive, a significant life insurance payout. You have read that he stood to collect a fortune and start afresh without the young woman he never really loved.

It is a good script and it is little wonder that you presume his guilt. You have read about his wicked intent over and over. The portrayal and the pictures are very damaging for the bubble-wrap salesman, who looks capable of engaging in a fatal “bear-hug” to squeeze the life out of Tina.


You know, too, that Tina’s father Tommy Thomas, is a plausible and likable man (the television hosts who regularly interview him along with other media describe him as “great talent”).

Thomas clearly adored his daughter. He has been relentlessly driving a public case for murder and wanted his son-in-law to suffer the death penalty in Alabama, although he will now probably settle for life imprisonment.

But you have been conned. Almost all of it is puerile fantasy. In the millions of words published and broadcast about Watson and his bride Tina, 26, during the past few years, culminating in a crescendo of emotive and politically motivated commentary during the past months and days in a tug-of-war between Alabama lawmakers and their counterparts in Canberra and Brisbane, few if any have been balanced or favourable to him.

The sincerity of Thomas is undeniable. But in the zeal of Thomas, Australian and US media and the respective prosecutorial authorities to get Watson, their omission of inconvenient facts – hard and inescapable evidence that has passed rigorous testing by judges of Queensland‘s Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal – is unforgivable.


Tina Watson's body sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor while husband Gabe Watson surfaces. (ABC News)

Watson was cowardly for a few seconds that now define his life. That is the finding on the evidence. He lacked the intestinal fortitude and good judgment to swim down several metres to save the life of his wife when she was having serious trouble breathing during the dive.


This egregious lapse sealed her fate. He had wilted under pressure when he first tried to help her and she had, in her panic, knocked off his respirator and mask. He swam to the surface to raise the alarm and frantically seek help as she drifted into the depths, dying.

He recognised his contribution to her death. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, negligence that is criminal. His inaction should not engender public sympathy, but he did not murder her.

The insurance angle is a beat-up. There was a life insurance policy, but it was insignificant and of no good whatsoever to Watson. It was worth a paltry $30,000. The beneficiary was her father, Thomas. Travel insurance? Yes, that was on the table, worth just $10,000.

And here’s the clincher: the evidence of one of the detectives that an insurance broker, Mark Hughes, had provided a document (exhibit 33) in which it was revealed that in early September 2003, six weeks before the diving death, Watson did not want to proceed with a substantial life policy. He had planned to reconsider the opportunity after the honeymoon.

Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions Tony Moynihan would have pressed for a prosecution for murder if there had been a snowflake’s chance of succeeding. But there wasn’t.

Many of the facts contrary to the matrix of information contrived to portray Watson as a murderer can be found in the written judgment by three of Queensland’s most experienced judges, Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, Justice John Muir and Justice Richard Chesterman. Other facts can be found in the detailed legal submissions to the Queensland Coroner’s Court.

There was evidence that it is rare for a diving death to be the result of a single factor; diving deaths are almost always multi-factorial. A study had shown that panic, however, accounted for about 40 per cent of the contribution to drowning while diving.

In one exchange with an expert medical witness it was established that the particular effects of panic and anxiety will change the diver’s respiratory pattern, cause perceptual narrowing and disorientation, decrease cognitive function and stimulate arrhythmia, among other symptoms. Tina had a pre-existing heart condition, an arrhythmia, which had been treated with surgery two years before she died. The surgery is successful “99 per cent of the time”.

She was also, indisputably, a panicker. Another witness who had assessed her previously described her in evidence as “probably the most panicked diver that I have worked with before”.

There was other evidence that just before getting into the water for the dive that killed her she was red in the face with wide glazed eyes. She was out of breath and “not at all comfortable”.

Diphenhydramine, the medication she was taking for seasickness, has reported side effects of confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, disturbed co-ordination, irritability and blurred vision.

Another furphy from the evidence is that as a so-called qualified “rescue diver” Watson should have been able to save her life.

The facts tell a different story: the last occasion on which he had dived in salt water, a more challenging environment than still freshwater, was more than four years before the honeymoon. His experience as a diver was limited. Certification he held as an experienced rescue diver might have been ego-boosting but was not worth the paper on which it

was written.

Much has been made of highly damaging footage of Watson removing flowers from Tina’s gravesite. They had been placed there by her grieving parents, who believed Watson killed their daughter. The flowers were artificial. “Was it the case that flowers which were artificial were considered by Mr Watson to be offensive and that [was why] they were removed?” asked his legal counsel, Steve Zillman, at the inquest.

Chesterman in the Queensland Court of Appeal described Watson as “a man of good character, well regarded by his community and given to selfless acts of charity”. “He was devastated by the loss of his wife whom he loved.

“Although the primary judge [Justice Peter Lyons who did the original sentencing] did not say so, it is, I think, implicit that her death and his responsibility for it is a psychological burden that must weigh heavily on him. [Lyons] expressly found that [Watson] was devoted to his wife and devastated by her loss.”

Chesterman found it likely that Watson “left his wife because when confronted with a novel, difficult and dangerous situation he lacked the qualities of character, and the skills, to deal with it. [His] case is one of omitting to provide assistance. He was her only means of survival and he turned way. He knew she was inexperienced and depended upon him for her safety.

“He knew she had declined an orientation dive because of her trust in his competence and capacity to protect her.

“[He] decided in a split-second not to dive after [Tina] but to surface and seek help. The cause of death was asphyxiation. For some reason wholly unexplained in the materials provided, [Tina] ceased to breathe.”

Muir described Watson’s conduct as less culpable than that of others whose failure to help in different manslaughter cases had caused death, because “their conduct [in those other cases] was not the result of a spur of the moment decision made under pressure”.

Muir found Watson “had no intention of harming his wife. He did help her initially. His reprehensible decision to swim for assistance was made in a hostile environment when he was under stress.” It is a very different portrait to the one being painted now.

Watson has been charged in the US with the murder of Tina. Prosecutors in Alabama want to convict him and Thomas is pleased. They have pledged that he will be spared the executioner’s needle.



10 thoughts on “Reef dive drowning murder is a fantasy

  1. Interesting read.
    If these are the facts then many a person in the presence of a car crash, industrial accident, or similar could also be charged with manslaughter should they choose to go for assistance before attempting to rescue, recover, or render first aid in a situation for which they are not trained, qualified, or otherwise capable of?


    • Liability rests on the person with the qualification who is the leader in the situation or causes the accident. Gabe Watson holds a Rescue Divers ticket (whether he should or not is a different kettle of fish) and from the article had accepted an implied liability to keep his new wife safe. This is the difference between the situation with the Watsons and a car or industrial accident where a person is unqualified to render assistance. If you are simply present when the accident occurs, you can choose whether or not to involve yourself. That said, common decency dictates that you render any assistance you can.


      • Disregard my Comment Bjorn I was replying to the wrong story, not what you were talking about.Thats what I get for trying to catch up without paying attention to what I am doing.Sorry about that


    • This is my concern Mykel…How do we feel about it, and how do we make it better…It makes me feel like that society will ignore people in despair because (fill in excuse)


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  3. Robbo, I was simply disabusing Mykel of the notion that you could be charged with manslaughter for not getting involved in a situation not of your own making. We covered the duty of care in one of my courses this year and I thought it was worth clearing up the legal point.
    If you choose not to get involved there are no legal repercussions, but you are a failure as a member of society. One of the things I’d guess you are trying to counter with this site (i.e. getting people more involved in the concept of society and their role in it as a method of dealing with crime).


    • Sorry mate, I confused two different threads up, trying to juggle everything. To turn ones back so to speak, yeah is not criminal in some situations but as a human its not the right thing, you actually make a ton of sense, thankyou


  4. Umm no your information about the insurance is incorrect. This guy told his wife to take out a large insurance policy which she agreed to and claimed she had done. However she didn’t have time to organise it so he was never paid out anything. As far as he knew though, he was going to collect a large amount and made inquiries soon after her death about it.


  5. Like most people I thought that Gabe Watson was guilty of the demise of his wife. I now feel upset that I allowed reporter’s spin to influence me. Hedley Thomas is the National Chief Correspondent of Australia’s finest newspaper, The Australian. He is a straight shooter and a most respected and admired reporter by both the public, and his piers.

    Please please ‘Google’ his story in the Australian 27th November entitled “Dive Reef Drowning Murder is a Fantasy” and after reading it in full, I’m sure you will feel as I do. It shows how we can be led to believe the opposite of the truth. I was unhappy that the Australian Govt. was not sending Mr Watson back until they received assurances from Washington that he would not be put to death in the USA.

    After reading the above article I don’t believe he is even guilty of the manslaughter charge he agreed to. Read why he agreed to it. It has everything to do with the guilt of his not being able to save his new wife after, in her panick, she knocked his air pipe off and damaged his equipment. I didn’t read the article with a open mind, I thought he was as guilty as sin. I was so wrong. Anne Robinson


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