Back in December, 2010, Alabama’s preposterous prosecution of Gabe Watson caused me to write this post questioning whether The Yellowhammer State (seriously?) had forgotten that it was located within the territorial boundaries of these United States and not in Oceania, which it was at war with.
Concisely, Gabe Watson’s wife died during a diving incident in 2003. 5 years later, because that’s how laid back they are in Oz, he was indicted in Queensland for murder and eventually pled guilty to manslaughter receiving an 18 month sentence.
But that didn’t sate Alabama Attorney General Troy King, who is reported to have remarked: “18 months? In Alabama you get 18 months just for being black!”1 So he opened his favorite refrigerator and pulled out his favorite lunchtime snack: that venerable ham sandwich and had Watson indicted in Alabama for murder. For a death that occurred in Queensland, Australia. The theory, naturally, was that he planned his crime in Alabama and thus that – oh, I don’t know, just go with it, okay?
And so on went the prosecution of Gabe Watson, all the way to trial, causing most people with any knowledge of how things are done in Alabama that a capital conviction was forthcoming.
But those people don’t know Judge Tommy Nail, apparently (Can I point out how awesome it is that he goes by Tommy, not Thomas or Tom? Does he wear leather to work and ride a hog?). Because Judge Nail reminded the Yellowhammers that we still operate under laws and those laws come from the Constitution:
“The evidence is sorely lacking that it was an intentional act,” Nail said in response to a defense motion for acquittal after the prosecution completed its case.
“The only way to convict him of intentional murder is to speculate,” Nail said. “Nobody knows exactly what happened in the water. I’m sure we’ll never know.”
Nail also said the prosecution’s evidence about financial gain was a stretch, and he heard no evidence proving a profit motive.
And you know why there wasn’t any evidence of financial gain or profit motive? Because Watson couldn’t have profited. The beneficiary of his ex-wife’s life insurance policy was her father, who pushed King to prosecute Watson.
This silly, wasteful prosecution was rightly dismissed by the judge, but not after much money was spent and stress caused and the loss of liberty threatened. All for what? A political ploy? Publicity? I refuse to believe that King honestly thought he was pursuing justice in this case by prosecuting Watson on the most threadbare of theories. Someone who takes elected office must have a greater sense of responsibility to the citizens of the state and to justice. But there are or will be no consequences stemming from this for King. He’s free to terrorize someone else tomorrow, perhaps someone without the media attention surrounding Gabe Watson, thus escaping close scrutiny. Maybe there are other judges who aren’t Judge Nail, willing to give the prosecution the benefit of the doubt and deposit barely-weak cases in the laps of mercurial jurors.
Judge are the second gatekeepers of justice; prosecutors are the first (jurors are the last). We should demand more of them; we should expect more. If we don’t, we’re all a few minutes from midnight, about to turn into ham sandwiches.
1He said nothing of the sort that I know of. I mean, anything’s possible, I suppose, but I just made up that quote because I wanted to perpetuate stereotypes about Alabama. It’s parody. Don’t sue me.